The state of Washington has various routes and mechanisms for determining child custody and parenting plans. Here’s everything you need to know about child custody in Washington.

What is a parenting plan in the state of Washington?

A parenting plan is a judge-determined binding court order. The parenting plan arranges the custody agreement and visiting plan.

A parenting plan establishes:

  • Parental custody,
  • Visitation schedule,
  • Residential provisions,
  • Child support,
  • Which parent will make major decisions regarding the child, and
  • Protocol regarding disagreements between parents.

Judges issue parenting plans in the following legal matters:

  • Divorce,
  • Legal separation,
  • Parentage,
  • Motion or petition for a parenting plan, and
  • Minor guardianship cases.

How does a judge determine a parenting plan in Washington?

A judge considers multiple factors when determining a parenting plan and awarding custody.

These factors include but are not limited to:

  • Parental history of decision-making,
  • Parental geographical location,
  • The parental desire for cooperation,
  • The child’s relationship with each parent,
  • Parental role in caretaking,
  • Parental mental health,
  • The child’s emotional and developmental needs,
  • The child’s relationship with other family members,
  • Child’s preference,
  • Parental preference,
  • Educational needs of the child,
  • Parental employment and financial stability, and
  • Parental history of domestic violence.

Can a judge change a parenting plan in Washington state?

Yes, an individual may file a Petition to Change Parenting Plan. A Petition to Change Parenting Plan asks the court to reconsider the previous parenting plan and custody agreement. Individuals who file a Petition to Change Parenting Plan must prove a substantial change in circumstance occurred in the child’s, filing individual’s, or other parent’s life.

After the individual has filed the petition and the other party has adequate time to respond to the petition, the court may call a preliminary hearing. Judges may call an Adequate Cause preliminary hearing if the other party does not want a new parenting plan.

At an Adequate Cause hearing, the judge reviews all filed paperwork and allows both parties to summarize their stance on the case. If the judge believes adequate cause exists for a change in the parenting plan, the judge will allow the case to proceed. If the judge does not believe the adequate cause is present, the judge will dismiss the case.

If the case proceeds, the parties may choose to settle or go to trial.

Related: Parental Kidnapping in Washington | Child Abduction by a Parent

How do the courts in Washington determine a child’s home state?

Washington courts define a child’s “home state” as the state where the child lived with a parent or guardian for at least six consecutive months immediately preceding the onset of the child custody proceeding. If a child is less than six months old, the child’s “home state” is the state the child has lived in since birth.

How do courts in Washington determine a “person acting as a parent?”

Washington courts define a “person acting as a parent” as an individual, other than the child’s parent, who had physical custody of the child for six consecutive months within one year preceding the onset of the child custody proceeding. Washington state courts also require the “person acting as a parent” to have legal custody of the child.

What is the minimum visitation requirement under Washington state law?

Under Washington state child custody guidelines, the minimum visitation requirement to the noncustodial parent is one weeknight per week and a visit every other weekend. A judge may award the noncustodial parent more than the minimum visitation requirement. In Washington, the judge rarely awards less than the minimum visitation requirement, even if the noncustodial parent is abusive. If the noncustodial parent is abusive, the judge may award visits with protections in place. Visits with protections are commonly supervised to ensure the child’s safety.

When does a Washington state court have jurisdiction over a child custody hearing?

Washington state court has jurisdiction over a child custody hearing if:

  • Washington is the home state of the child on the date of the proceeding or was the home state of the child within six months of the proceeding and a parent or person acting as a parent still lives in the state,
  • If the court determines Washington state is the most appropriate forum under the Uniform Child Custody and Jurisdiction Act, or
  • The state declares temporary emergency jurisdiction over an abandoned child or child or immediate family member being threatened or subject to abuse.

Who receives a notice and opportunity to be heard in Washington state child custody hearings?

Before the court issues a determination in a child custody case, individuals under Section 8 of the Uniform Child Custody and Jurisdiction Act must receive a notice and opportunity to be heard.

Individuals delineated in Section 8 of the Uniform Child Custody and Jurisdiction Act include:

  • Any parents who maintain legal parental rights,
  • All individuals that the court has served in the child custody case, and
  • Any person who has physical custody of the child.

What information must each party provide at the first pleading hearing?

At the first pleading hearing, or in an appropriate affidavit, if reasonably ascertainable, each party must state:

  • The child’s current address or whereabouts,
  • All of the child’s places of residence for the past five years,
  • The names and current addresses of all individuals the child has lived with during the past five years,
  • If the party has participated in any other proceeding regarding custody or visitation of the child,
  • If the party knows of any proceedings potentially affecting the current child custody proceeding, and
  • The names and addresses of any person who is not a party to the proceeding and who has physical custody of the child, or claims rights of legal custody, or physical custody of, or visitation with the child.

What proceedings may affect child custody proceedings in Washington?

In Washington, parties must state knowledge of any proceedings potentially affecting the child custody proceeding.

  • Related to domestic violence,
  • Protective orders,
  • Terminations of parental rights, and
  • Adoptions.

Can law enforcement remove a child from custody in Washington?

Yes, during a child custody proceeding law enforcement may relocate a child. Law enforcement may relocate a child at the prosecutor or attorney general’s request.

The prosecutor or attorney general may request the removal or relocation of a child if there is:

  • An existing child custody determination,
  • A request to do so from a court in a pending child custody proceeding,
  • A reasonable belief a violation of a criminal statute occurred, or
  • A reasonable belief an individual has wrongfully removed the child or retained the child in violation of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

Can an individual appeal a child custody decision in Washington?

Yes, an individual can appeal a child custody determination. The pending appeals process will not impact the initial determination unless the court declares an emergency order.

When would Washington state courts declare an emergency order?

Washington courts may declare an emergency order for abandoned children or if the child or immediate family member is subject to or threatened with abuse.

What happens if a parent violates the court-ordered parenting plan in Washington?

If a parent violates the court-ordered parenting plan, they are often subject to legal consequences. The nature of the violation will determine the parent’s punishment.

Violating a parenting plan may result in:

  • Attorney’s costs,
  • Fines, and
  • Imprisonment.

If the child’s parents are unmarried, who has custody of the child in Washington?

In Washington, if a child’s parents are unmarried, custody defaults to the child’s mother. The father of the child may take a paternity test to prove biological relation. If the father of the child proves paternity, the father’s rights as a parent will hold equal weight in court to the mother of the child.

Can a parent’s drug or alcohol use impact custodial or visitation agreements?

Yes, a judge may take parental drug or alcohol use into account when determining custody and establishing a parenting plan. If a parent abuses drugs or alcohol or there are credible concerns a parent’s drug or alcohol use impairs the parent’s ability to take care of the child, the court will likely restrict the parent’s custody. The court will likely require the parent to successfully complete drug or alcohol treatment before granting a normal visitation schedule.

What is the difference between non-parent custody and minor guardianship?

Non-parent custody and minor guardianship have multiple distinctions.

Some differences are:

  • A parent objecting to an individual seeking guardianship over their child may receive a lawyer at the public’s expense if the parent can not afford counsel,
  • The individual seeking guardianship must notify more people than in a non-parent custody case,
  • Children possess more rights in a minor guardianship case than in a non-parent custody case, and
  • A parent may file a minor guardianship case suggesting an individual for minor guardianship of their children.

Related: How to Get Temporary Custody in Washington State

What does it mean to give someone “power of attorney” in the state of Washington?

To give an individual “power of attorney” means a parent temporarily grants an individual power regarding care, custody, and property of their children. Parents may sign a power of attorney if they are not available or able to provide care for a child for whom they are legally responsible. Giving someone power of attorney does not end the parent’s parental rights. In Washington, a power of attorney may last from one day to 24 months. Parents may revoke a power of attorney at any time before the power of attorney expires.

When can a parent request a writ of habeas corpus in Washington state?

In Washington, a parent with custody may request a writ of habeas corpus if the child’s other parent or a person claiming guardianship of the child takes the child away from the parent without a court order.

If the child’s other parent or a person claiming guardianship of the child takes the child away from the parent without a court order, the parent with guardianship should report the crime to the police department. Courts consider the act of taking a child away from the custodial parent without a court order an abduction.

What is a parenting class?

In Washington, all counties require both parents to attend a parenting class. Parenting classes address the impact of divorce and separation on children. The classes generally last several hours. While all counties require parenting classes, the acceptable parenting class varies by county. Parents should ask their court for a list of acceptable classes.

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