Choosing Which Parent to Live With After Divorce or Separation
When parents go through divorce or separation, children sometimes have strong opinions regarding custody. In Washington, there are certain situations in which a child's preference can impact a court’s custody decision.
If divorcing or separating parents can't agree on a custody arrangement for their children, a judge might require them to attend mediation. If mediation doesn’t resolve the issue, the parents will have to go to court, where a judge will decide on a parenting plan based on the child's best interests.
Parenting plans cover both physical and legal custody and detail each parent's decision-making rights and where the child will primarily live. Judges in Washington consider the following factors when deciding custody arrangements:
- How strong the relationship is between the child and each parent
- The physical, educational, and developmental needs of the child
- What each parent's role is when it comes to caring for the child's daily needs
- The physical and mental health of both parents
- Whether the child has a strong relationship with their siblings and extended family members
- What ties the child has to their home, school, and the community
- The wishes of each parent regarding custody
- Each parent's work schedule
- Whether the child is mature enough to make a reasonable and independent preference regarding which parent they want to live with
Although there isn’t a specific age when the court will listen to a child's custodial preference, judges in Washington will generally give a child's preference more weight if they are 12 years old or older. However, just because the child is capable of voicing a mature opinion about which parent should be awarded custody, judges can still take into account all of the other factors that are relevant to the child's best interests and make a different custody ruling than what the child wants.
The parenting plan or custody order will remain valid until the child reaches the age of 18, is emancipated, or the order is modified.
Washington courts generally don't allow children to testify about their custodial preferences in the courtroom. Instead of putting children in the awkward position of deciding in front of their parents, judges usually appoint a mental health professional to interview the child and then report back to the court.
A judge can also appoint a custody evaluator or guardian ad litem to the case. While both of these professionals will interview the parents and the children involved, only a guardian ad litem has the authority to represent a child in court. The report submitted by the guardian ad litem or custody evaluator will recommend what custodial arrangement is in the child's best interests and whether the child prefers one parent has custody instead of the other.
Although courts can interview the child in the court chambers to determine their custodial preference, this setting is usually reserved for older children who are comfortable expressing a preference. Even when the judge interviews a child in the court chambers, it is a private affair that occurs without the parents.
For guidance regarding a child custody dispute, call McKinley Irvin at 206-397-0399 or contact us online.
- Child Custody