Balancing Child Input and Best Interests
In Washington State, children can provide input regarding their custody arrangements after their parents’ divorce. This generally takes effect between the ages of 12 and 13 when the court begins to consider the preference of a child in custody matters. Nevertheless, the child’s input is not the sole determining factor in custody decisions. The court will not issue a parenting plan that states the child must spend time with one parent only if they want to, for example.
The court aims to strike a balance between considering the child’s perspective and maintaining their well-being. It avoids placing the decision-making authority solely in the hands of the child because of the potential for abuse or manipulation. The court focuses on crafting a parenting plan that serves the child’s best interests, taking into account various factors, including the child’s input, but not relinquishing decision-making power to the child. This is because children are still minors, and the court is responsible for handling their cases accordingly. There may be situations where the court takes the input of a 17-year-old into consideration, for example, recognizing that they have limited time remaining as a minor. However, when the child is 12 or 13 years old, the court will consider their preferences but ultimately determine the residential time for each parent.
Appearing In Court
Children are not required to appear in court during divorce or custody proceedings. Courts generally aim to minimize children’s direct involvement in the legal proceedings of their parents’ divorce. Testimony from children is not typically sought or considered by the court.
In situations where the court seeks input from the child, they appoint a guardian ad litem. The guardian ad litem’s role is to advocate for the child’s best interests and represent their preferences, needs, and opinions regarding each parent’s involvement. The guardian ad litem serves as the voice of the child and communicates on their behalf.
Modifying Child Custody And Visitation
Although somewhat tricky, child custody and visitation can be altered in Washington. As is the case when child custody is initially determined, the standard for doing so is based on the child’s best interests.
To modify a parenting plan, you must demonstrate a substantial change in circumstances. Simply disliking the current schedule or wanting a change for personal reasons is not sufficient grounds for modification. The court requires a significant and material change in the child’s circumstances or well-being. Substantial changes that may warrant a modification include allegations of domestic violence, neglect of parental duties resulting in harm to the child, educational issues such as constantly being absent or failing classes, or allegations of sexual abuse. These types of concerns can provide a basis for seeking a modification of the parenting plan.
Another basis for modification is referred to as integration. This is when both parties mutually and organically adopt a different parenting arrangement than what the court ordered. For instance, if one parent enters a relationship with a new significant other and starts sending the child over to the other parent’s house, the other parent may request a modification to reflect these changes that have happened naturally.
The court sets these strict standards for modifying a parenting plan to maintain a sense of stability and consistency for the child. The court will carefully consider the child’s best interests and the evidence of a substantial change before approving a modification.
For more information on the Preference Of A Child In Custody Matters, a free initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (425) 276-7390 today.