In the state of Washington, the child’s preferences are one of the factors that a court will consider in making a determination about the contents of a parenting plan, which includes custody and visitation. The court may give more weight to a child’s opinion if the child is older and sufficiently mature to express a reasonable opinion on the matter. For example, a court probably would give more credit to the preferences expressed by a 17-year-old child than by a nine-year-old child. Ultimately, however, the court will base its decision on what is in the best interests of the child. A child’s preferences may not always be in his or her best interests, so those preferences will not be the sole deciding factor in the court’s decision.
A child can express his or her custody preferences in different ways. If the court has appointed a guardian ad litem for the case, he or she can interview the child and report back to the court. Although rare, the judge also may want to speak with the child privately in his or her chambers. Lastly, a child might be allowed to testify in open court, but usually only after a hearing regarding this issue. This is often a very stressful situation for all parties and the child in particular, and is generally frowned on in Washington; forcing a child to speak out against one parent or the other in front of his or her parents is extremely stressful for all parties involved and usually not in the child’s best interest. The child is likely already experiencing emotional pain due to the pending custody case, and testimony in open court is likely to exacerbate that pain. As a result, most experts recommend that you avoid having a child testify in a family law proceeding unless it is an absolute necessity or last resort.
We know how difficult and complicated divorce cases can be, especially when they involve complex issues like child custody. Contact Pacific Northwest Family Law today and we will show you how we can help with your Washington child custody case. Our attorneys focus their practice primarily on family law, so we are sure to have the skills that you need for proper representation in your custody case. We are here to answer all of your questions, calm your concerns, and help you through the often difficult process of contested child custody and family law cases.