Child custody is one of the most difficult issues a parent faces in divorce. Deciding on a visitation (parenting time) schedule can quickly become contentious between you and your spouse. The goal of our Washington child custody lawyers at Cohen Family Law, LLC is to help you get the best possible outcome for you and your children. (360) 953-5000 or contact us online today to schedule your free consultation.
Determining custody and visitation is one of the most significant parts of the divorce process. Most parents’ primary concern is retaining their relationship and ability to care for their children. A child custody lawyer understands what you’re going through and will do their best to make the process as painless as possible. Even if your custody case looks uncomplicated, there are many details about the family legal system you may be unfamiliar with.
Hiring an attorney will ensure the best interests of you and your child are fought for. They know the types of evidence that courts and custody experts are looking for when deciding parenting time, decision-making, and emergency matters. Being represented by a professional child custody lawyer will also benefit you with the peace of mind in knowing all required court documents will be filed on time, you will have the necessary guidance and objective advice about your case, as well as a convincing argument to fight for your rights.
When parents are separating or filing for divorce, they must make decisions about child custody and visitation just like any other aspect of a divorce, such as property division, spousal support, etc. Either the parents will come to their own agreement, typically with the help of attorneys and mediators, or the court will decide the terms.
If the parents are not married and facing a child custody dispute, it will be solved in a similar way as a divorcing couple, either through an agreement or the court. However, the mother of a child is typically awarded sole custody by default unless the father takes action to establish paternity. An unmarried father who is on a child’s birth certificate has already established paternity and has equal rights as a married father to custody and visitation.
In Washington, a child custody arrangement is referred to as a parenting plan. A parenting plan dictates the terms of where a child will live and with which parent, how the parents will make decisions regarding their child, and how future issues will be resolved. There are several different ways custody can be awarded, but the court’s guiding principle is the “best interests of the child.” Even if both parents can agree on the terms of a parenting plan, a judge will review it to make sure it is in the children’s best interests. The judge will typically consider each parent’s ability to:
Other factors a judge may take into account before approving or deciding a parenting plan are:
Knowing these factors can help you prepare, but keep in mind that each custody case is unique, and the outcome can differ. A residential schedule will also be part of the parenting plan, which is a court order stating when the child will be with each parent.
Understanding where to file for child custody can be confusing. In many situations, the child custody process will also be handled at the exact same time as a divorce or separation proceeding. However, that is not always the case. There are certainly times when you may need to file for child custody, either initially or as a modification, separately from divorce or separation procedures.
In Clark County, Washington, child custody is handled by the Clark County Superior Court. You can browse the court’s forms page to find the forms that you need to file for child custody. However, we strongly encourage you to reach out to a skilled Clark County child custody lawyer who can assist you with this process. The custody of your children is important, and it is also an emotional and sensitive issue. We want to make sure that you handle this process correctly every step of the way.
When you work with an attorney, you will have an advocate with experience handling child custody issues throughout the state of Washington. They will be familiar with the Clark County system and methodology and guide you through this process.
Most courts do now offer various resources that allow you to begin to understand the process and management of a child custody case. Even if you are working with a lawyer, we encourage you to familiarize yourself with any documents made available by the court.
There may be times when the court determines that a parent is “unfit” for legal or physical custody, which would result in the other parent being given full custody of the child. An “unfit” Parent is one that provides unsuitable or unstable living conditions for the child. There are various reasons why the court may come to this conclusion, including a parent’s problem with alcohol or drugs, past use of physical or mental abuse, issues obtaining and maintaining housing, etc.
If a former spouse or partner exhibits questionable behavior that could be harmful to a child, you should let your attorney know about this as soon as possible. The court will need to review solid evidence about why a parent may be considered unfit to obtain custody of their child. These decisions are not taken lightly, and without proof, the court will not deem apparent unfit.
There are situations, though rare, where both parents are deemed unfit to care for their child. Whether you are a parent seeking custody of your child or another interested family member looking to obtain non-parental custody, you should seek assistance from an attorney when working through these issues.
It can be confusing to understand certain terms related to child custody arrangements. When this process starts, you will be introduced to two important terms – “physical child custody” and “legal child custody.”
Physical custody of a child refers to which parent or parents the child will reside with. That is fairly straightforward. Legal custody of a child refers to which parent or parents get to make decisions about the welfare of the child. This includes who gets to make decisions about medical procedures, religious upbringing, which school the child will attend, and more.
Now, we also have to look further than these two basic types of custody and look at whether or not the custody will be “sole” or “joint.”
When a parent has sole custody, that means they are the only parent responsible for that particular area of custody. It is possible to have both sole physical and legal custody of a child. However, both parents can also share either type of custody. In some cases, you may see a situation where a parent has sole legal custody but joint physical custody of a child. This could just as easily be the reverse.
It is imperative to work with a skilled Clark County child custody lawyer when you begin going through the separation or divorce process. A skilled lawyer will have your back and work with you to help ensure that the best interests of your child are represented in the final child custody order.
It is certainly possible for two parents to obtain 50/50 custody of their child. This is what we refer to as joint custody. As mentioned above, parents can have joint physical custody and joint legal custody, but they do not necessarily have to have joint custody of both. In some cases, one parent may have sole custody of both physical and legal custody.
In Washington, it is not uncommon to see one parent granted primary custody of their child. It is important to remember that child custody issues will typically take the lens of doing what is best for the child or children at hand. Granting one parent custody of the child can allow for a sense of stability in the child’s life.
Under no circumstances will the court agree to approve 50/50 custody in Clark County if this places the child in harm’s way or if there have been any domestic violence incidents related to the parents or households involved.
However, many parents will seek shared custody arrangements so they can share responsibilities and split physical custody time equally. This, too, can also benefit the child, particularly when it comes to their emotional well-being, if both parents act in ways that are in the best interests of their child. This type of custody only works if both parents are relatively amicable and on the same page when it comes to physical and legal custody issues. There must be good communication and a clear understanding of the schedules.
Custody disputes can also arise in paternity and third-party cases.
In a custody case, paternity refers to the legal relationship between a father and his child. When parents are not married, the process of making a biological father a legal father is known as “establishing paternity.” Parentage in Washington State can be established by presumption, acknowledgment (voluntary), or through a parentage action in court (involuntary). When the case is filed, the court can order the parties to submit to a blood test to determine whether a man is the child’s biological father and has the associated rights and obligations of a legal father. We can ensure your rights and interests are protected in any paternity action.
In addition to the biological parents, divorce can lead to custody and visitation disputes between grandparents, other family members, and friends. Washington state law will consider granting visitation, and in extreme cases, temporary or full custody to third parties. We can help you explain to the court why it is in the best interests of the children to remain in your care.
We understand how difficult and contested custody arrangements can be. If you are going through a divorce with children, separating from your child’s parent, or need to modify an existing parenting plan, it is crucial that you contact Cohen Family Law, LLC.
We can help you successfully navigate the child custody system to ensure the best interests of you and your children are protected. Call us at (360) 953-5000 or send us a message online today to schedule a free consultation with our Washington child custody lawyers.