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Tacoma Child Custody Attorneys
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Tacoma Child Custody Attorneys
Child Custody Laws in Washington State
Divorce and Parenting Plans in WA State
For many of our clients, the issue of who will have primary residential custody of the parties' children is the most difficult for parents facing Pierce County or Tacoma divorce. In many cases, it can also be one of the most complex. We're here to help.
At the Law Offices of Jason S. Newcombe, our Pierce County and Tacoma child custody lawyers are experienced and aggressive. We understand Washington state's child custody and family laws as they relate to the issues of primary residential custody, parenting plans, and child support.
Choosing the right Tacoma Child Custody Lawyer
Our Tacoma child custody attorneys have successfully represented hundreds of clients in Washington State divorce and child custody matters. We are acutely aware of the fact that disputes over child custody and parenting plans are often among the most highly charged Pierce County family law matters.
Our Pierce County divorce and Tacoma child custody practice group is focused on providing strong, sensitive, and realistic representation that is designed to assist our clients in quickly achieving their goals and top priorities in these difficult cases. We always begin every case by carefully listening to our clients because experience has taught us that you know what is best for you and your family.
Any experienced Tacoma child custody lawyer or divorce attorney will tell you that the court's prime directive in all custody matters is to focus on the best interests of the children. The difficulty comes in how a person who actually knows very little about you, your spouse, or your children is realistically supposed to determine what is best for your kids. This is where we come in and assist you and your family.
Although often difficult, it is nearly always best to at least try and negotiate a your custody dispute.
No matter what obstacles or disadvantages there may be in sitting down with your soon-to-be ex-spouse or ex-girlfriend, and trying to negotiate a temporary or permanent parenting plan, there is one undeniable truth that should almost always at least get you to the table: You are probably the only two people on earth that truly know your children, their unique needs, the demands of all of your schedules, and the relative strengths and weaknesses of each of your parenting abilities.
By working together to develop a plan that best meets the specific needs of your children and that accommodates both your lives, you can avoid the court's "cookie-cutter" implementation of plan that is tailored to no one. Additionally, you may also be able to create a new and flexible framework for the active participation of both of you in the care and raising of your children. By doing so, you can develop and implement a plan that is specifically designed to meet the emotionally, psychological, and intellectual needs of your children.
During this difficult time, it is important to keep in mind that recent statistical evidence suggests that parents who prepare a plan together are 80% more likely to comply with it than if a plan is simply unilaterally imposed upon them by an arbitrary judge who really knows nothing about you, your children or your spouse. There are many ways to try and facilitate an agreed parenting plan and our experienced Washington State child custody attorneys can assist you in creating a plan that is right for you and your family.
If however, this is simply not possible, we will do everything possible to protect you and your children by petitioning the court to implement a parenting plan based upon the specific needs and goals or your case.
Experienced Pierce County and Tacoma Child Custody Lawyers.
The attorneys at the Law Offices of Jason S. Newcombe have many years of experience in developing, preparing, and negotiating parenting agreements that are in the best interests of the child or the children and that protect the rights of our client. Our Tacoma custody lawyers provide skilled representation in the private negotiation, mediation, and litigation of all disputes related to every aspect of a parenting plan and child support.
These include not only addressing the issues of living arrangements and visitation but also those involving respectful co-parenting and communication. If necessary, we confront the issues of alcohol and drug dependency, as well as physical abuse.
They also include addressing the issues of parental decision-making regarding education, medical care, college expenses, various financial considerations, and any other issues that our clients tell us are important to them and their family.
If you are facing Tacoma divorce or Pierce County child custody fight, we encourage you to call our offices and speak with one of our experienced family law attorneys. We will help you to understand your legal rights and options so that you can make an informed decision about what is best for you and your kids.
The simple truth is that child custody cases are often difficult. Our job is to minimize the trauma, especially for you and your children.
The Parenting Act.
As noted above, one of the most difficult parts of a marriage breakup is the effect it has on your children. The Parenting Act of 1987, which went into effect on January 1, 1988, attempts to help parents work out a legal arrangement for their children during and after a separation or divorce.
Although the Parenting Act tries to address the concerns of both the mother and father in allocating their parental rights and responsibilities, the child's best interest is the Act's primary consideration. It eliminates the concepts of "custody" and "visitation," and instead provides a residential schedule that specifically details the time that the children will reside with each parent. The information contained herein details the Parenting Act and discusses some of the decisions that will have to be made on behalf of the children. Please note, however, that this information is no substitute for legal advice.
Application of the Parenting Act.
Whether you live in Vancouver, Spokane, or Tacoma, if the case involves children and a family law matter, the Washington State Parenting Act will apply.
The Parenting Act applies to parents who are married and who are going through or who have gone through a dissolution or legal separation. It applies even if the dissolution is not being contested.
For unmarried parents, some of the same concepts involved in a parenting plan may apply, but the situation is different, so an attorney should be consulted.
Revisions to Washington State's child custody laws.
The new Parenting Act revises child custody laws. In fact, this new law does not use the words "custody" and "visitation." Instead, it refers to a "parenting plan," "parenting functions" and "residential schedules." Even though the terms differ, the ideas are similar.
A parenting plan is a court-approved, written arrangement that is worked out between parents, or decided by a judge if the parents cannot agree on its terms. It is a legal document now required in Washington for any annulment, legal separation or marital dissolution proceeding where minor children are involved.
The parenting plan has several parts, including sections on residential provisions, decision-making functions, dispute resolution procedures and limitations.
The residential schedule states where the child(ren) will live and what contact they will have with each parent. The decision-making section states who (mother, father or both parents) will make major decisions about concerns such as the child's education, health care or religion. The dispute resolution provisions outline a process for settling disagreements or problems without going back to court. A limitations section may be used to restrict contact by an abusive parent who could harm a child.
A child support section outlines financial arrangements. Other sections may include instructions, identification of the parents, children or other parties, and other provisions or special agreements.
Addressing the needs of the children.
The Parenting Act looks to the present and future needs of children. It tries to define how to best meet their needs. It does so on a functional basis of "who does what," rather than the legal theory of "who has custody."
In general, the purposes of the Parenting Act are to specify the duties of each parent and to identify and try to resolve sources of conflict involving the children during the dissolution process.
The Parenting Act tries to reduce the harmful effects of separation and conflict on children by encouraging parents to keep their children's best interest in mind when working out a parenting plan. This means trying to provide the most loving, stable and nurturing environment possible.
The Parenting Act recognizes it is important for the child to have a relationship with both parents after the marriage ends.
One important goal of the Act is to preserve the parent-child interactions and relationships that exist at the time of the dissolution or separation. Other goals of the parenting plan are to:
- Provide for the child's physical care.
- Maintain the child's emotional stability.
- Provide for the changing needs of the child in a manner that minimizes the need to alter the plan.
- Set forth the authority and responsibility of each parent with respect to the child.
- Minimize the child's exposure to harmful parental conflict.
- Encourage agreement between parents to meet their responsibilities without reliance on judicial intervention.
- Protect the best interest of the child.
- Another goal of the Parenting Act is to set detailed guidelines and standards. In doing so, this law tries to help parents put together a specific plan for their family upon which they can rely — and, if necessary, enforce — in the future.
Developing a Pierce County Parenting Plan.
In developing a parenting plan, it is important to consider specific parenting functions and each parent's ability to:
- Maintain a loving, stable, consistent and nurturing relationship with the child.
- Attend to the daily needs of the child, including feeding, clothing, physical care and grooming, supervision, health care, day care, and other needs as indicated by circumstances.
- Attend to adequate education, including remedial and other essential education that serves the best interests of the child.
- Assist the child to develop and maintain appropriate interpersonal relationships.
- Exercise good judgment regarding the child's welfare.
- Provide for financial support of the child.
- When these issues have been thoughtfully determined, you will need to work on the parenting plan's three major elements: decision-making authority, the residential schedule, and the dispute resolution process.
1. Decision-making Authority.
The Parenting Act requires parents to specify who may make major decisions about the child's care. Specific areas of concern are education, health care and religious upbringing; other items may also be specified.
Decisions about these issues may be made by both parents or divided between them, or the parents may arrange, or the court may decide, that only one of them will make these decisions.
A court uses various factors in deciding whether both parents should share decision-making, or if only one of them should have this authority. These factors include how much the parents have participated in past decisions about their children, whether they can cooperate with one another in decision-making, and how far they live from one another.
Even though some major decisions may be designated to only one parent, it is important to remember that each parent may make decisions about day-to-day care and control of the child while that child is living with that parent. In an emergency, either parent may make decisions regarding their child's health or safety.
2. Residential Schedule.
Parents will be asked to propose a living arrangement showing the amount of time each child will spend with each parent. Along with school days and weekends, this schedule considers occasions such as holidays, birthdays of family members and vacations. The schedule must be specific about these days and may not simply state "reasonable visitation." Transportation arrangements also may be considered. The court will look for a residential schedule that maintains the most loving and stable relationship between each parent and child. It will favor giving the greatest amount of time to the parent who has been more involved in caring for the child's daily needs, and whose relationship with the child is more stable and stronger.
The court also considers other factors, such as:
- The agreements parents have arrived at regarding the residential schedule.
- How well each parent has performed his or her parenting functions in the past, and their ability to do so in the future.
- The child's relationships with brothers, sisters and other adults in his or her life.
- How involved the child has become in his or her environment, including school and other activities.
- The wishes of the child (if old enough to express those wishes).
- Although the court may permit a child to switch homes frequently, such moving will be considered only under certain conditions including:
- If there has been a great deal of cooperation between parents in the past.
- If there is reasonable geographic proximity.
- If the arrangement serves the best interest of the child.
- In all cases, however, the children will live and spend time with each parent as designated by the plan, unless there is a serious problem with one parent which may result in a parent's contact being limited by the court.
3. Dispute Resolution Process.
Conflicts may arise in the course of implementing the parenting plan. For example, parents may have disagreements about the plan itself or the care of children after a plan has been approved. Sometimes, these differences cannot be solved by sitting down and talking without help. Therefore, the Parenting Act includes a process in the plan to help clear up questions or resolve disputes.
The parents can decide which procedures to use, and they may even name a particular individual or agency to help them settle disputes. Also, they may use this dispute resolution process to make some changes in their plan.
Among options, parents may use counseling or mediation (a process where both parents meet with a third person to try to work out the problems together). Arbitration is also an option. This method involves a neutral third party, called an arbitrator, who listens to both sides and makes a decision.
Any other dispute settlement process agreed upon by the parents may be used.
Settling issues cooperatively outside of court is usually in the best interest of the children. In fact, only after using a dispute resolution procedure can the parents go to court. (Child support conflicts are one exception; these matters, and restrictions requested because of certain misconduct by parents, are usually settled by court action.) The parents retain the right to have dispute resolution decisions reviewed by superior court.
Implementation of a "Temporary" Parenting Plan.
The child's needs must, of course, continue to be met while parents are trying to settle marital differences. The Parenting Act calls for a "temporary parenting plan" to do just that. This replaces what used to be called "temporary custody."
A temporary parenting plan will operate only until a final parenting plan is worked out and approved by the court.
The temporary plan is the first step in the process of identifying and allocating the parents' responsibility and time with the child. It considers the child's needs, while allowing time for families to adjust to new circumstances.
Each parent may propose a temporary parenting plan. Then, if the parents cannot agree, each makes a sworn, written statement (called a declaration) and the matter is resolved by the court. The declaration filed with the court should address the following:
- Where and with whom the child has lived for the past 12 months.
- To what extent each parent has taken care of the daily needs of the child for the past 12 months.
- What each parent's work and child-care schedules are now and for the past 12 months.
- Whether any circumstances exist that might negatively affect the child if the child lives with or visits the other parent.
- A permanent parenting plan is signed by the judge at the time the decree of dissolution is signed. It is intended to provide a long-term formula for the parents' care and support of their child. If the parties reach an agreement on the final plan, a final order or decree must be signed by a judge, but not sooner than 90 days after filing and service.
The same form may be utilized for a temporary or permanent plan, but the court makes no presumptions from the provisions of a temporary plan.
Is it possible for the Parenting Plan to have certain limitations?
While the Parenting Act tries to have both parents involved in the parenting of their children, there are circumstances when a parent's involvement can pose some risk to the child.
Limitations on a parent's involvement with a child may be made for certain reasons. For example, if either parent has abandoned their child for a long period of time or repeatedly refused to take part in caring for their daily needs, or physically, sexually or emotionally abused the child, it may be possible to arrange restrictions. Serious acts of domestic violence can also cause the court to restrict or eliminate a parent's participation in the parenting plan.
There may be other cases where the court can limit or eliminate a parent's role in the parenting plan if doing so would be in the best interests of the child. Some examples are:
- A parent has a long-term drug, alcohol or other substance-abuse problem which has prevented that parent from taking care of the child's daily needs.
- A parent has a long-term emotional or physical impairment that interferes with his or her taking care of the child.
- There are few or no emotional ties between the child and parent.
- The child's psychological development is in danger of being seriously damaged because a parent continues to be abusive or is a source of substantial conflict in the child's life.
- One parent has not let the other see the child for a period of time without a good reason.
- If one parent claims that the other parent has harmed the child, or would harm the child or the other parent, then this claim must be proved if denied.
Evidence to prove an allegation to the court includes your statements, the statements of others (witnesses), and documents, such as police or court records. The other parent may present evidence to the court to show that the abuse or the bad conduct did not occur, or that the act did not affect the children and should have no effect on the parenting plan.
A parent may request the court to appoint a Guardian ad Litem to investigate allegations and issue a recommendation for residential placement/limited parent contact, if any.
What if I need to enforce my Pierce County Parenting Plan?
The law requires parents to deal in good faith. If they fail to do so, the violator could face civil or criminal charges. For example, if one parent fails or refuses to comply with the temporary or permanent parenting plan, or tries to stop the other parent from doing so, the court can enter an order preventing this parent from continuing such actions. Furthermore, the court can require the violator to pay court costs, attorney's fees or other charges as a penalty for not following the plan. Fines or even jail terms (depending on the seriousness of the violation) also may be imposed.
The law specifically states that even if one parent violates the plan, the other parent must continue to perform his or her duties and take appropriate legal action to resolve the dispute. For example, one parent cannot restrict the other parent's residential time because child-support payments are late.
What if I need to modify my Pierce County Parenting Plan?
A parenting plan can be changed in only a few cases. It may be changed if both parents agree to the change, and if it is in the best interests of the child.
If one parent does not agree to a proposed change, the court can modify a plan only if revisions are made necessary by a substantial change that has occurred in the child's life or in the lives of the parents since the parenting plan was ordered.
Any change in the plan must be in the best interests of the child. Similarly, the residential schedule can be modified if the court finds that the child's present living situation and environment are physically or emotionally harmful.
The information above is largely reproduced from an informational pamphlet published by the Washington State Bar Association and is reprinted here with the bar association's explicit permission.
Our approach to Pierce County and Tacoma child custody cases.
Understanding your options from the onset of our case.
Tragically, many divorce and family law attorneys seem to believe that every divorce case should begin with an ugly court fight over temporary custody. This process typically involves one parent initiating the process by saying whatever they can to try and make the other parent look bad in the eyes of the court. This forces the other parent to do the same in response. It's an emotionally devastating process that often leaves deep emotional and psychological scars.
More importantly, it poisons the process from the start. In an attempt to gain the upper hand, each parent comes out of the gate throwing every bit of dirt that they can at their spouse. Often, the biggest losers are the children. Already polarized parents begin to resent and even hate each other even more. Their ability to effectively communicate and co-parent breaks down even further, and it is frequently their kids who suffer the most.
Now, there are times when swift action and immediate court intervention is necessary. And one of our primary goals in every custody case is to protect the best interests of our client and their children. And in many cases, a showdown over temporary custody is simply unavoidable. But this is rarely our first recommendation to our client. In the vast majority of cases, it is far better if parents are able to work together and reach an agreement regarding primary residential custody or shared custody and then agree upon a specific visitation schedule.
By working together instead of against each other, parents are able to focus their attention on the best interests of their children and work out an arrangement that works best for them. After all, you know yourselves, your lives, and the needs of your family much better than us or some arbitrary judge who will render their decision on only a very limited amount of information and evidence.
Where do I start?
Many Tacoma and Pierce County clients come to us with an idea of what they want their custody arrangement and parenting plan to look like, but they simply do not know where to start. And, especially at the beginning of the process, it can be very difficult to move beyond the immediate emotions and confusion that often accompanies separation and a pending divorce. During this difficult time, it is often difficult to come to an agreement.
This is where we come in and help you explore your options. In truth, there are many ways to proceed depending on your specific goals and needs. Our experienced Seattle and Washington State child custody attorneys will present you with several options and guide you through the process in a manner that is tailored to the unique circumstances of your case.
We will carefully explain both the law and the legal procedures surrounding child custody law in Washington State, as well as review your rights and concerns. Our goal is to provide you with the expertise, information, and resources necessary so that you can make the best decision for you and your family.
Your concerns are our concerns.
We never presume to know what is best for our clients and their family. We believe that is part of what distinguishes our law firm from many others. We begin every case by listening to your priorities and your concerns about your children. The enables us to formulate the best strategy from the onset of your case. It also makes us more effective advocates by assisting us in being able to thoughtfully and accurately articulate your concerns the best interests of your children to the court.
In WA State, the court's decision regarding a child's living arrangements and visitation schedule are based on what is best for that child. Determining the child's "best interests" is the central focus of all custody litigation. Our child custody lawyers provide aggressive representation when it is required. Our goal in these situations is tow-fold. First, to present our clients in the light most favorable while protecting their children from being drawn into the chaos and acrimony that so often surrounds most divorce cases and custody battles.
If you are contemplating a divorce or other family law action that involves child custody, we invite you to contact one of family law attorneys at the Law Offices of Jason S. Newcombe.
Call now to learn more about your Pierce County child custody and Tacoma divorce legal rights and options.
The Law Offices of Jason S. Newcombe provides child custody and child support representation to clients throughout Western Washington and the greater Puget Sound area.