Washington State Custody Laws

Get to Know the Child Custody Laws in Washington State

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Are you heading to family court in Washington state? Before your first court appearance, you should get to know the state's child custody laws. Here's what you need to know about Washington state custody laws:

Washington State Custody Laws

The state of Washington uses several criteria to determine child custody. Primarily, Washington courts determine custody based on the best interests of the child.

This means that they put the child's needs ahead of anyone else's, including your own needs. In addition, courts in Washington state expect parents to present a parenting plan prior to their first custody hearing. The court will either approve the plan or not. In the event that they do not approve your plan, you'll need to make revisions and resubmit the updated parenting plan for review and approval. 

Joint and Legal Child Custody in Washington

In Washington, one or both parents may be granted either legal custody or physical custody. Legal custody refers to your right to make day-to-day decisions on behalf of your child, including decisions about medical care, education, and religion. However, it should be noted that either parent can make emergency medical decisions, regardless of your formal legal custody arrangement.

Washington state custody laws also allow the courts to consider awarding joint physical custody.

This is generally considered when:

  • Both parents regularly participate in caring for the child
  • The parents live close enough to one another to realistically share physical custody
  • Both parents demonstrate a willingness to work with one another to in raising the child together

If you and your ex can demonstrate these qualities, it's worth considering joint custody as an option.

Remember, too, that the court can award joint custody even if that's not what you're asking for at this time.

Visitation Rights and Child Custody in Washington

Washington state custody laws also allow generous visitation for parents not granted joint custody. However, you should know that visitation may be limited if a parent has done any of the following:

  • Abandoned the child for an extended period of time
  • Physically, sexually or emotionally abused the child
  • Exhibited a history of domestic violence
  • Assaulted or sexually assaulted the child and/or caused bodily harm
  • Has been convicted as an adult sex offender

In these cases, the court may allow supervised visits or may require the parent to participate in anger management courses, parenting classes, or a substance abuse program before reconsidering the parent's visitation rights.

Modification of Child Custody in Washington

The state also allows parents to request a modification of child custody when evidence of a significant change in circumstances can be proven. In general, it is the responsibility of the parent who is seeking a modification of child custody to present a motion to modify custody and a decree that explains the facts supporting the modification.

If you are the parent seeking a modification, you should also serve it to your ex and the court. Before the court will consider a modification, you will need to prove the following:

  • That a substantial change of circumstances has occurred since the current custody arrangement was established, and
  • Modifying your current custody arrangement is your child's best interests

For more information about Washington state custody laws, speak with a qualified family law attorney in your area or refer to the Revised Code of Washington.

Edited by Jennifer Wolf