In the past, Washington courts tended to give preference to the mother when deciding which parent should have the children after a divorce. There was an assumption that the mother would provide the children with the highest quality of care, and dads would often receive minimal visitation opportunities – for example, alternate weekends. That would result in the dad having 26 weekends each year, or 52 overnight visitations out of a 365-day year. That amounts to about 14% of the children’s residential time. It is now known that children are more likely to thrive after a divorce when allowed to maintain strong relationships with both parents. That assumes that neither parent has serious problems with alcoholism, drug addiction, mental illness or violent behavior.
Child custody is one of the most complex aspects of any divorce, and as a parent, you naturally want what is best for your kids. In order to accomplish this goal, parents may have to set aside their own preferences and concentrate on what makes the most sense for the children. For many Washington families, a parenting plan that provides equal or nearly equals time for both parents is a way to allow both parents to have equitable access to their kids while providing a sense of stability and security.
Who will get the kids?
Since modern family courts are less likely to automatically grant most residential time to just one parent, it is important for each parent to understand his or her rights and how to seek a final order that makes sense for their individual family. When considering the terms that will work best for your kids, it may help to understand the factors which courts are required to consider by statute RCW 26.09.187(3)(a):
- The relative strength, nature, and stability of the child’s relationship with each parent;
- The agreements of the parties, provided they were entered into knowingly and voluntarily;
- Each parent’s past and potential for future performance of parenting functions as defined in *RCW 26.09.004(3), including whether a parent has taken greater responsibility for performing parenting functions relating to the daily needs of the child;
- The emotional needs and developmental level of the child;
- The child’s relationship with siblings and with other significant adults, as well as the child’s involvement with his or her physical surroundings, school, or other significant activities;
- The wishes of the parents and the wishes of a child who is sufficiently mature to express reasoned and independent preferences as to his or her residential schedule; and
- Each parent’s employment schedule, and shall make accommodations consistent with those schedules.
Factor (i) shall be given the greatest weight.”
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to child custody. There still are, unfortunately, cases where one parent should have very restricted contact with the children.
Custody solutions that make sense
Child custody can be a difficult matter to navigate during your divorce, but it is possible to seek solutions that will work for your family for the future. With the appropriate guidance, you can reach a final order that will balance your parental rights with what will be in the best interests of your kids. Before you agree to terms, consider discussing your case with an experienced legal professional.