Agreeing on child custody terms can be a divisive and emotional task for Washington couples going through a divorce. Some parents come to terms by working together passively, or with the assistance of a mediator or legal counsel. Others may end up having to go to court and rely on a judge to order a decision.
No matter which way a custody order is agreed upon, there is a central question that should be considered during all negotiating or litigation: What serves the best interests of the child? That may sound straightforward on paper, but what exactly does it mean for parents?
Not every child’s needs are the same
Acting in the best interests of the child means choosing an arrangement that will support healthy growth, offer stability, foster happiness and promote good mental and emotional health. As every child is different and every family is unique, what serves the best interests of one child will not be the same for another. Because of the unique dynamics of all families, there is no one-size-fits-all custody plan for every family that needs one.
Shared custody is typically the preferred arrangement for most cases. However, there are times when sole custody, with or without visitation rights for the noncustodial parent, is appropriate. Several factors have to be considered before determining which custody terms will best benefit each family. Some of them include:
- What the child desires
- Any special care the child may need
- Available living arrangements
- Age of the child
- Gender of the child
- The mental and physical health of each parent
- Any parental history of domestic, drug or alcohol abuse
Parents know their kids best and are often able to reach agreeable child custody terms without having to go to court. A judge, on the other hand, only gets to know a family on paper or through formal testimony, which is why so many factors are considered before a custody order is issued.
By considering the best interests of the child at each step, a custody plan can be created that truly matches a child’s needs. If those needs change over time, the state of Washington allows custody terms to be updated and adjusted as needed, so long as both parents agree on the new terms.