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Washington Child Custody
Child Custody in Washington

Based on Washington State Revised Code - Title 26 - Chapters 26.09.002, 26.09.187, and 26.09.191, the court decides on either sole or mutual decision making authority, and residential provisions based on the best interest of the children.

Washington child custody protects the child. The family courts encourage divorcing parents to cooperatively write a parenting plan. Washington expects parents to present a parenting plan prior to a custody hearing. The court then approves or rejects the plan.

The child benefits when parents agree and work together on the parenting plan because it shows their willingness and ability to take care of their child's needs after divorce. The court intervenes to resolve issues concerning child support, custody, and visitation rights when the parents fail to do so.

In awarding custody the Washington courts consider the best interests of the child as the primary determining factor. In addition, the court assesses the nature of the parent-child relationship.

The court grants either joint custody or sole to the parent who is capable of taking care of the child as well as provide for his or her needs.

Mandatory Parenting Class

Washington courts require all divorcing parents with minor children to complete a mandatory parenting class before granting a divorce. This requirement is designed to help parents and children deal with the trauma of divorce and separation. Unless the court grants a waiver, both parents must complete this requirement. Rather than give up an afternoon or evening taking your course in a crowded classroom, you can fulfill this requirement conveniently online at a very reasonable cost. We recommend you take Children in Between Online" to fulfill your court requirement and for the benefit of your children.

Washington Child Custody

The court awards either sole custody or joint custody. Parental roles are assigned in accordance with the best interests of the child. In helping the court decide on custody cases and remain objective in their decision-making, courts consider:

  • the child's wishes or preferences as to custody, provided that he or she is mature enough to make such claims;
  • the child's emotional needs and level of developmental;
  • the child's relationship with his/her parents, siblings, and other significant members of the family that directly affects his/her welfare;
  • the child's adjustment to his/her home, school, and environment;
  • the parents' wishes or preferences as to custody;
  • the parents' performance, past and future, in terms of their parenting roles;
  • the parents' work schedule and future availability;
  • the agreement signed by both parties as to custody;
  • the relationship between the parents and the child; and
  • any history of domestic violence, child abuse, negligence, or substance abuse.

Joint and Legal Child Custody

In Washington, one or both parents may be granted either legal or physical custody of a child. Legal custody determines the parent who makes day-to-day decisions for a child, such as health and medical decisions, as well as educational decisions. However, either parent may make emergency decisions for a child while the child is in his/her custody, regardless of the legal custody arrangement.

Physical custody refers to possession of the child for residential purposes. A court in Washington normally awards both parents joint physical custody when the parents can work together.


In order to modify a custody order, a parent seeking a modification should also serve notice to the other party and the court, and he or she must prove:

  • a substantial change of circumstances in the current custody arrangement, and
  • the custody modification is in the best interests of the child.

Parental Conduct

In addition to finding a parent unfit because of substance abuse or abuse or neglect towards a child, the courts also consider the conduct of both parents during the course of the marriage, and the impact of parental behavior on the child. The court frowns upon a parent who abandons his or her child, physically, sexually or emotionally abuses the child, has a history of domestic violence, assaulted or sexually assaulted the child and caused bodily harm, or has an adult sex offender conviction.


In Washington, a parent who is not granted custody of a child is entitled to reasonable visitation rights. Visitation may be limited if a parent's behavior is inappropriate.

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