50 Ways to Keep Your Kids
More than 50 factors must be considered by a judge but just one factor rules them all. Child Custody is perhaps the most difficult issue to resolve when parents separate. The simple answer is that everyone, including the Court, wants what is best for the children. But nothing stays the same because parents grow emotionally, find new partners and get new jobs. Children and their needs change too, even more dramatically than adults because one day they are babies and the next day it seems they are driving a car and going to college. In Washington State, child custody decisions are based upon the legal standard, “best interest of the child.” While the standard is simple and means just what it says, parents and sometimes even children don’t agree on what is “best.” Washington State law is very specific about the factors that a judge should consider in determining “the best interest of the child.” Regardless of whether the parents agree on a child custody plan or whether the Court decides which parents gets custody of the children, Washing Law 26.09.187 requires the judge to consider the following factors:
Additionally, in determining the “best interest of the child” a Judge must also follow the mandate of RCW 26.09.184 and consider whether the child custody arrangement:
Provides for the child's physical care
Maintains the child's emotional stability;
Provides for the child's changing needs as the child grows and matures;
Sets forth the authority and responsibilities of each parent with respect to the child;
Minimizes the child's exposure to harmful parental conflict;
Encourages the parents to meet their responsibilities as set out in the permanent parenting plan; and
To protect the best interests of the child
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Child Custody Factors Judges Consider
1. The relative strength, nature, and stability of the child's relationship with each parent;
2. The agreements of the parties, and whether the agreement was really voluntarily;
3. Each parent's past performance and potential for future performance of parenting functions including whether one parent has taken greater responsibility for performing parenting functions;
4. The emotional needs and developmental level of the child;
5. 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;
6. 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
7. Each parent’s employment schedule and whether the proposal is realistic in lite of their employment schedule.
Lastly, the Court must determine whether there exist any “Rule 191 Factors.” RCW 26.09.191 sets out a list of factors that can limit one parent’s opportunities for custody. These factors apply not just to the parent seeking custody, but to anyone who may be living with the parent seeking custody. Here’s the list:
Willful abandonment that continues for an extended period of time or substantial refusal to perform parenting functions;
2. Physical, sexual, or a pattern of emotional abuse of a child;
3. A history of acts of domestic violence;
4. Sexual or physical assault that causes grievous bodily harm or the fear of such harm or that results in a pregnancy.
There are exceptions to the application of Rule 191 Factors, but the judge MUST limit custody if one of these factors is present. The limitations can be adjusted to the nature of the past conduct but no visitation with the child and no right to make decisions on behalf of the child is possible. Supervised visitation is a common option for parents with 191 restrictions. Supervisors can be court appointed or they can be people agreed upon by the parties and approved by the court.
As an additional resource, King County Family Court maintains an excellent website that provide forms and general information regarding child custody and parenting plans.