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Lakewood Child Custody

Lakewood Child Custody Attorneys Protect Your Parental Rights

The hardest battles during divorce are usually over child custody. Divorcing couples rarely agree on the specifics, creating a potentially messy situation. Fortunately, Washington laws on child custody are clear that both parents have rights and responsibilities to their children.

If you're facing a heated custody battle, our Lakewood family law attorneys are here to support you. With our deep knowledge of Washington child custody laws and decades of experience helping families navigate Pierce County Family Courts, we'll help you fight for custody of your children and ensure their futures are protected.

What Are The Types Of Custody Arrangements In Washington?

When couples are exploring custody options, they have a lot of flexibility because Washington law allows for many different types of child custody arrangements. This flexibility creates the best possible custody arrangement for your children, even if it means getting a little creative. Here are some of the types of child custody the Pierce County family courts will explore for your family:

  • Legal Custody: Legal custody is the parent's authority to make major decisions about the child's life. In Washington, it is awarded to one parent (known as "sole legal custody") or split between parents (known as "joint legal custody").
  • Physical Custody: Physical custody, which is where the children live, can be granted solely to one parent or shared. In joint physical custody cases, the child spends significant time with both parents, and the schedule can vary based on the arrangement agreed upon or ordered by the court.
  • Primary Custody: The parent who has most of the parenting time is considered to have primary physical custody. Outside of cases of abuse and neglect, both parents have visitation or parenting rights based on a schedule ordered by the court.
  • Kinship Care: In certain circumstances, a third party, such as a grandparent, relative, or other caregiver, may petition the court for child custody if it is deemed in the child's best interests. Third-party custody cases can be complex and require evidence to demonstrate that the biological parents cannot care for the child.

Once the courts establish custody, Washington law requires parents to make a parenting plan outlining custody, visitation arrangements, and other matters relating to the child. To fit the family's unique needs, parenting plans are customized before the court approves them.

Washington Parenting Plans: How Courts Create A Comprehensive Agreement

In Washington State, parenting plans are legal documents for custody, visitation arrangements, and other vital elements of co-parenting. The Pierce County Family Court will establish a parenting plan where parents cannot agree upon such a plan.

When parents initiate divorce or legal separation proceedings involving children, or in cases where there is a disagreement between the parents concerning the visitation and custody rights of a child, the Pierce County Court considers the children's circumstances and enters an order specifying their best interests. The order may include:

  • the consideration of evidence;
  • interviews with the parents and children; and
  • the recommendations of professionals such as custody evaluators or Guardian ad Litems

Washington law outlines the specific factors the Court must consider when creating a parenting plan, which include: 

  • the child's relationship with each parent;
  • the parent's willingness to foster a close and continuing relationship between the child and the other parent;
  • the child's adjustment to their environment;
  • the mental and physical health of the family members; and
  • any history of domestic violence or substance abuse.

The Pierce County Court determines an appropriate custody and visitation arrangement for the child based on these factors. It will also decide on legal custody (who makes major decisions for the child), physical custody (where the child resides), and a visitation schedule for the non-custodial parent. After such decisions are finalized, a detailed parenting plan addressing all custody and visitation aspects will be drafted in collaboration with the parents and their attorneys.

The document should specify:

  • the residential schedule
  • holiday and vacation schedules
  • transportation arrangements
  • methods of communication between parents and child
  • decision-making authority for major issues such as education and healthcare
  • procedures for resolving disputes

Once the parenting plan is drafted and submitted to the Pierce County courts for approval, it will be reviewed to ensure it meets the child's best interests and complies with Washington law. If the court approves the plan, it becomes a legally binding court order that both parents must follow.

You can modify parenting plans in Pierce County if circumstances change or the current plan is no longer in the child's best interests. Parents can request modifications through the court by demonstrating a substantial change in circumstances, such as a relocation, a change in work schedule, or concerns about the child's safety and well-being.

Evidence And Documentation You Need To Support Your Child Custody Case

In a child custody case, presenting compelling evidence and documentation is crucial to support your position and persuade the court to make decisions in the child's best interests. Here's a comprehensive list of evidence and documentation you may need to gather and present:

  1. Documentation of Parenting Activities: To demonstrate your involvement in your child's daily care, you must provide documentation of your participation in different activities, including feeding, bathing, transportation, homework help, medical appointments, and extracurricular activities.
  2. Communication Records: Maintain communication records with the other parent regarding parenting issues, schedules, and important decisions related to your child. Keep copies of emails, text messages, and written correspondence.
  3. Character Witness Statements: Gather statements from individuals who can testify to your parenting abilities, involvement with your child, and the child's relationship with you. Consider getting them from family members, friends, teachers, healthcare providers, and babysitters.
  4. Child's Preference: If your child is old enough to express a preference, document their wishes regarding custody arrangements. You can convey your child's preference to the court through written statements, professional interviews, or testimony in court.
  5. Financial Records: Provide documentation of your financial stability, including income statements, tax returns, bank statements, and evidence of employment or other sources of income.
  6. Medical and Educational Records: Gather medical records, school reports, and other educational documentation that demonstrate your involvement in your child's healthcare and education, as well as any special needs or considerations.
  7. Documentation of Co-Parenting Efforts: To prove your willingness to cooperate with the other parent in matters related to the child, attend mediation sessions, participate in co-parenting classes, and adhere to court orders.
  8. Incident Reports and Protective Orders: If there are allegations of domestic violence, substance abuse, or other concerns regarding your child's safety, provide any relevant police reports, restraining orders, or documentation from child protective services.
  9. Custody Evaluation Reports: If you had a custody evaluation, submit the report and any recommendations made by the evaluator regarding custody and visitation arrangements to the Pierce County Courts.
  10. Documentation of Relocation Plans: Provide a detailed plan outlining the benefits and addressing potential challenges or concerns if you wish to relocate with your child.
  11. Any Relevant Legal Documents: Present copies of previous court orders, agreements, or judgments related to custody, visitation, or parental rights to the Pierce County Court.
  12. Expert Testimony: Consider obtaining expert testimony from psychologists, therapists, or child development specialists who can provide insight into your child's best interests and your ability to meet their needs.

When presenting your case for child support, organize and present your evidence clearly, concisely, and compellingly. Additionally, consult an experienced Lakewood child custody attorney for guidance on what specific evidence may be most relevant and persuasive in your situation.

Your Child Custody Questions Answered By Our Lakewood Attorneys What rights do unmarried parents have in Washington regarding child custody?

When it comes to child custody in Washington, unmarried parents have the same legal rights as married parents. However, you must have paternity to seek custody or visitation rights as the father. Paternity can be voluntarily established by parents signing a Paternity Acknowledgment form or a court order. If it is in dispute, genetic testing may be required.

Do grandparents have legal rights to seek custody or visitation in Washington?

Yes, Washington allows grandparents to petition for custody or visitation rights under certain circumstances, like when it's in the child's best interests and if visitation is denied unreasonably by the custodial parent. The court also considers the existing relationship between the grandparent and grandchild, the child's best interests, and whether visitation or custody would interfere with the relationship between parent and child.

What happens in Pierce County child custody cases when there has been domestic violence?

Washington courts take domestic violence seriously and may impact custody decisions. Pierce County Courts always prioritize the safety and well-being of the child and may limit or restrict the custody and visitation rights of an abusive parent. Evidence to prove domestic abuse may include police reports, medical records, witness testimony, photographs, and protective orders. Courts may also consider findings of domestic violence assessments.

Child custody battles are complex, but our experienced Lakewood attorneys are here. Contact us now, and together we'll explore your legal options and create an understanding of your parental rights.

Client Reviews
Laurie has worked on my very challenging and contentious divorce and I could not have asked for a better family law attorney. She was able to handle all of the twists and turns of my case with ease. I highly recommend Laurie to anyone looking for an excellent, ethical and hard working counselor. Chandler
Laurie is an incredible divorce lawyer! She did an amazing job with my divorce, and it was a real dog fight the whole way. She is a true fighter. And you can tell that she really cares about her family law clients and the results that she achieves for them. John
My lawyer guided me through a very challenging time in my life when I was going through my divorce. She worked hard and explained every step of the way what was going on so I could understand the process. I was very happy with her work. Barbel