There are three primary types of child custody cases in Washington state: divorce, parentage for unmarried couples, and third party, which is also known as guardianship. Regardless of what type of matter you are engaged in, it is a good idea to consult an experienced child custody lawyer to learn about your rights and what matters to the court in a child custody dispute.


Child custody arrangements are about the best interest of the child. Primary custody is typically granted by the court to the individual who can provide the safest and most stable environment for the child(ren). There are several factors, defined by state law, that the court must consider when making this decision.  Your child custody attorney can go over each one in depth with you, but it is good to have an idea of what they are and how they apply to your relationship with the children before your appointment.

The factors, as defined by Washington State law, are as follows:

  1. The relative strength, nature, and stability of the child’s relationship with each parent.
    Does one parent have a closer bond with the child?
  1. The agreements of the parents.
    Have the parents already agreed to, and followed, a schedule where one parent has primary custody?
  1. Each parent’s past and potential for future performance of parental duties.
    Who goes to the parent-teacher conferences and takes the kids to the dentist, doctor, sports functions, etc?
  1. The emotional needs and developmental level of the child.
    Does the child have unique needs that one parent is better equipped to manage?
  1. The child’s relationship with siblings and other significant adults in the home, as well as connection to the community like school, sports, etc.
    Does the child have stronger family and activity connections in one of the homes?
  1. The wishes of the parents and the wishes of the child, in the case of significantly mature children.
    Has the child, who is of reasonable age to express independent preferences, expressed a strong desire to reside primarily with one parent?
  1. Each parent’s work schedule and ability to make accommodations.
    Does one parent have a job that better allows them to accommodate the needs of the child?

Each of the factors are weighted differently with the court and, in some cases, the court may find that shared custody is in the child’s best interest. Once a primary custodian is identified in court orders it can be difficult to modify custody without being able to demonstrate a substantial change in circumstances. If you are dealing with a child custody issue, it is a good idea to consult an experienced child custody attorney who can advocate for you and protect your child’s best interests during this critical time.


Child custody arrangements are typically ordered within the parenting plan. It is difficult, but not impossible, to modify the legal custody outlined in a parenting plan. The court will lean on four major factors to determine if the requesting parent has met the legal standard for change. The factors include:

  1. The parents have agreed to a modification to the custody arrangement.
  2. The child has adjusted to a deviation from the parenting plan that occurred by agreement of the parties.
  3. The child’s primary home environment has changed, as in it is no longer safe physically, emotionally, or psychologically.
  4. The non-moving party has been found in contempt for failure to comply with the custody arrangement in the parenting plan on more than two occasions.

As with the original parenting plan, the court’s primary focus is on the best interest of the child. It is up to the parent requesting the modification to demonstrate to the court that the child’s current parenting plan, whether it’s sole or joint custody, is no longer the best option. Your child’s long-term custody has a broad and lasting impact on both child and parent. An experienced child custody lawyer can help you navigate the process of your child custody case, and defend your parental rights.


Failure to comply with a court order is a serious issue. When it comes to parenting plans, there are several remedies available to the harmed parent, depending on the severity and frequency of the violation. Some things to consider before moving forward with a contempt action are:

  1. Was the violation of the parenting plan done in bad faith?
    Was the person legitimately unable to comply or did they intend to cause harm with their actions?
  1. Is there evidence that the misconduct was intentional?
    Do they have a reasonable explanation for their violation, or did they make it known that they intended to cause harm?
  1. Have attempts been made to remedy the conduct in the past with little to no improvement?
    Has the court directed the parent to follow the order in the past without success?
  1. Is there a reasonable remedy to the cause for the violation?
    If a small change was made would it make it feasible for the other parent to comply?


Our office is here to help! Call us and let us assist with your child custody issues. Whether you are still in the contemplation phase or many months into the process, contact us. We can explain how we can help you achieve results that are meaningful to you.

DISCLAIMER: The information provided above is intended to be a general discussion of common child custody issues. It is not intended to be taken as specific legal advice that applies to your individual fact situation. Always seek legal counsel for advice on your unique case needs.