Child custody, visitation and support

1) What is child custody and visitation?

“Child custody” refers to which parent will have legal custody of the children, that is, with whom the children will live, and makes major decisions for them, such as which school they will attend, their primary doctor, etc.

“Visitation” is the topic of the non-custodial parent’s ability to visit/spend time with the children.

2) If the parents cannot agree on child custody and visitation issues, on what basis will the court decide?

The State of Washington will award joint or sole custody of minor children of the marriage based upon the best interests of the children.

3) Do grandparents in the state of Washington have any visitation rights with their grandchildren?

Not generally, unless harm would come to the child, such as both parents being unfit.

While Washington state law RCW 26.09.240 says Grandparents can petition for visitation; the Courts have found that law unconstitutional.

4) What is “child support”?

Child support is money paid by the non-custodial parent to the custodial parent in order to meet the needs of the children.

5) To what should the parties look for guidance regarding amount of child support to be paid? What standard will the court use if the parties cannot agree?

Child support in Washington is calculated by using the Washington State Support Schedule created by the legislature. In general, it is a table based on the number and ages of the children in comparison to the total net income of the parties. However, there are many factors to consider and relying on simply a base calculation often ignores information that should be considered when setting a child support obligation. An attorney can help you find all possible discounts available in your situation.

6) What is a Guardian ad Litem (GAL)?

A guardian ad litem (GAL) is an individual appointed by the court to represent the best interests of a child or incapacitated person involved in a case. This does not means they are an attorney representing the child’s wishes, because a child is presumed incapable of making good decisions the GAL’s job is to tell the court what is best for the child.

7) Can one parent legally move away with the children?

If there is no existing court order for custody and visitation, then the relocation law doesn’t apply and the custodial parent is free to move.

It is possible to move outside the county or even the state with the children if permission is granted from the other spouse or a court Order is obtained. This area of law has seen major changes recently and it is becoming obvious to all involved that relocating children is usually not in the best interests of the children.

8) What can I do after the final Judgment/Decree to reduce support my support requirement or increase/change time with the children?
There are some opportunities to improve your situation during your case or after Settlement and/or ‘Final’ Judgment. With “Modifications,” motions for reconsideration, “Appeals,” and other methods you may be able to alter the payments/visits.

9) What can I do to improve my chances at getting custody?

The more time you spend parenting your children, the better your odds are to convince the GAL and Judge that you should keep that role after the divorce. If your spouse is acting to limit your time with the children, you must act quickly. Don’t let yourself be removed from the children’s life simply to avoid conflict in the short term.