Custody cases are difficult for all parties involved, and particularly for children. Some parties are able to privately negotiate their own residential schedules, either on their own or with the help of a third party mediator. When parties cannot reach a custody agreement, however, the judge must make a decision about what arrangements would be best for the child. Washington law sets forth several different factors that judges must consider when they are making decisions in custody cases. While children don’t get to solely decide their own custody and visitation arrangements, they do have a say in the process at least to some degree.
The wishes of the child about the content of his or her parenting plan are only one of many different factors that a judge must consider in making decisions about a parenting plan. All of these factors are related to the child’s best interests, which is the governing standard for determining a custody and visitation schedule. These factors include:
• The relationship between the child and his or her parents, siblings, and other relatives
• The relationship between the child and his or her community, in terms of extracurricular activities, friends, school, and church
• Which parent historically has had primary caretaking responsibilities for the child
• The ability of each parent to care for the child
• The child’s wishes, if he or she is of sufficient intelligence and maturity to make a sound decision
Unlike the laws in some other states, a child doesn’t have to be a particular age before he or she can express a preference that the court must consider in making a custody determination. Rather, the child simply must be able understand the situation and be able to clearly articulate his or her desires with respect to a preferred parenting plan.
A judge may choose to speak privately with a child who is old enough – probably over 14 years of age – in order to determine his or her wishes. In some case, the court may appoint a therapist, counselor, or other mental health professional in order to get a clear sense of the child’s wishes. In almost no circumstances, however, would the child be required to state his or her wishes about custody by testifying in court.
The Walla Walla child custody attorneys at Pacific Northwest Family Law know how to handle all aspects of Washington child custody and family law cases. Whether we able to resolve your case through alternative dispute resolution or must proceed to trial, we are here to help and give you the advice that you need. Contact our office by e-mailing us at [email protected] or call us at 1-509-524-8488 to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced custody lawyers today.