Frequent Questions Regarding Filing For Child Custody In Bellevue
Making important decisions about your family's future can be difficult -- and learning about the legal avenues that can make those changes happen can also be hard. This page of frequently asked questions is here to help those who are learning about filing for child custody in Seattle
Do you have a question that isn't addressed below? Contact us today to talk to an experienced Seattle child custody attorney.
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Will a criminal record affect child custody and visitation rights?
When you get a divorce in the state of Washington and there are children involved, part of the process involves setting up a parenting plan. This plan will determine the residential or physical custody for your children, which spells out where they will live, as well as visitation rights. It also determines legal custody, to make it clear who has the right to make important decisions about a child’s life, including education and health care.
The parenting plan is a form of court order, meaning that a judge will make a decision about what he believes is in the best interests of the child. There are many factors that the court will consider, but one big question that factors in is whether the plan can be affected by the criminal record of a parent.
Past Crimes May Affect Your Parenting Plan
If you or your former spouse have any form of criminal record, it can definitely affect your child custody arrangement. However, the court considers each child custody situation on a case-by-case basis, so a record isn’t necessarily a major roadblock to your case, and a criminal conviction will likely cause more concern than an arrest with no conviction.
The court may look at other factors when considering a prior record, including:
- Who was the victim? If the crime involved psychological harm or abuse to a child, the court is much more likely to restrict custody and visitation rights. If the crime was a violent one or a sex crime, parental rights may be removed entirely.
- What was the specific offense? The nature of the offense makes a big difference. Domestic violence or other violent crimes are of great concern to the court. Prior drug or alcohol abuse-related charges can also lead to court-ordered drug tests via blood or hair, and a positive test could severely impact custody rights.
- How old is the conviction? If it’s a single charge from a long time ago, it’s less likely to have a major impact on the custody situation, especially if the charge was a relatively minor one.
- Was it an isolated incident? A continued series of charges shows the court that the parent may not possess sound judgement. Much of the court’s concern is with how a parent’s lifestyle and past history of recklessness will affect the child’s current and future circumstances, so that a single and relatively minor “youthful indiscretion” from long ago is likely to have less of an impact than a string of more recent charges.
- What was the sentence? The length and nature of the sentence are also important, especially if it hasn’t been served yet or is currently being served. A prior charge with a long sentence, or a series of shorter sentences, can have a severe impact on custody because it shows the court that the parent in question may not be able to provide a stable living environment for the child.
The key factor that the court will use to determine custody arrangements is written simply in state law. The Revised Code of Washington (RCW 26.10.100) states that “The court shall determine custody in accordance with the best interests of the child.” That’s the bottom line for the court, regardless of the wishes or interests of the parent.
What You Can Do
If you’re concerned that a criminal history could affect the outcome of your child custody situation, a Washington State child custody attorney may be able to help you. An attorney can provide you with the answers you need about your legal situation and assist you and your family through the divorce process from start to finish.
At the Law Offices of Molly B. Kenny, we have spent decades representing families facing all types of divorce and child custody issues. Going through a divorce is a challenging process, and we’re here to help you every step of the way. To speak to an experienced family law attorney about your custody case, please call us, or use the contact form to email us and arrange a private consultation here in our Bellevue office.
Will my ex-husband be allowed visitation rights for our child if he has a history of abuse?
After a divorce, most state courts will make an effort to allow both parents access to a child. This includes Washington State, which provides that any parent who does not have custody of a child should be granted reasonable visitation rights.
However, there are situations where visitation may be limited or even prohibited if a parent is considered a threat to the child’s well-being. In addition to losing child visitation rights for committing physical or sexual abuse, a parent may lose visitation privileges if he or she:
- Has been convicted as an adult sex offender
- Has emotionally abused the child
- Has a demonstrated history of domestic violence
- Previously abandoned the child
- Caused any sort of bodily harm to come to the child
These facts should be presented during divorce proceedings in order to limit the offending parent’s contact with the child. If there is not sufficient evidence to restrict a non-custodial parent’s access, your ex-spouse may be granted limited or supervised visitation rights as part of the divorce’s parenting plan.
If these visits pose a serious threat to the child, you will have to apply for a modification of child custody. This means that you will have to present a motion to modify custody and provide evidence that supports your decision. In order to be effective, you will have to prove that there have been changes that affect the circumstances of the original custody arrangement and that the child will be best served by the modification.
Domestic violence can affect your custody rights years after the abuse has taken place. Click the related links on this page to find out more about how your family could be affected, or fill out the consult box on this page to let us know how to contact you with more information.
How does teen testimony in Washington divorce trials work?
Please be assured that you are not the only parent with concerns about teen testimony in Washington divorce trials. It is natural to want to protect your child and it is important to understand how teen testimony is handled in Washington courts.
Washington judges consider the thoughts and opinions of children when deciding on issues of child custody during a divorce trial. That being said, your child may or may not have to testify in open court.
The Judge Will Consider Your Child’s Age, Maturity and Ability
In some cases, a child may testify on the stand in open court. However, in other cases, a judge may use his or her discretion to have the child “testify” in the more informal and comfortable environment of the judge’s chambers rather than in open court. In making this decision, the judge will consider your child’s:
- Age – Children who are 16 or 17-years-old may be treated differently than children who are 13 or 14-years-old.
- Maturity – A court will consider a child’s maturity, emotional needs, and ability to articulate sound reasoning.
- Other relevant factors – If your child was abused or has a cognitive disability, for example, then the court may consider these special circumstances.
You and Your Child Will Not Be Alone
Teen testimony in Washington divorce cases can be difficult for both the child and the parents. However, an experienced divorce lawyer can make this difficult situation easier. If you are concerned about child custody proceedings then please contact a Washington child custody attorney today for a confidential consultation.
What is a de facto parent?
In the last ten years, Washington State courts have recognized something called a “de facto” parent – A person who is not biologically tied to the child and a person who has not legally adopted the child, but someone who has been acting as a parent for much of the child’s life.
In 2005, a child custody battle between a lesbian couple caused the Washington Supreme Court to rule in favor of a de facto parent. It argued that since the non-biological parent raised the child from birth and acted in a parent in every way, she should have the rights of a parent during the child custody case.
However, it is important to understand that winning child custody rights and child visitation by claiming to be a de facto parent is difficult to do. Under the definition, a de facto parent must:
- Have had the consent of the natural parent to act in a parent-like role.
- Live with the child in the same home.
- Have assumed many or all of the obligations of parenthood without financial compensation.
- Have formed a permanent and loving bond with the child in question.
Since the 2005 de facto parent case, several non-biological parents have successfully argued for child custody. However, it is difficult to meet the above requirements—especially for stepparents and grandparents. It is also difficult to be named a de facto parents if the other biological parent are still living and wish to have child custody and visitation rights.
Do you have a question about de facto parents or Washington child custody law? Contact the Law Offices of Molly B. Kenny today.
What should I do if I believe my kids are at risk for a parental kidnapping or family abduction?
The vast majority of child abduction cases in the United States involve a family member, such as mother, father, or grandparent. If you are locked in a hostile child custody dispute, or if you have other reason to believe that your children may be at risk for a parental kidnapping, there are several steps you should take to protect them:
- Talk with your ex – If your ex is at all reasonable, communication may be the best way to avoid an escalation. Studies have shown that just a few hours of counseling can drastically lower parental abductions. At the same time, many abductors have said that they took the kids because they felt no one was listening to them or helping them.
- Be ready – Do you have recent pictures of your child? Do you know their height and weight? Do you know the license plate numbers of your ex’s vehicles? Make sure that you have the information you need if an abduction were to take place.
- Talk to the authorities – If you believe that your ex may take your children, tell someone! You can start with your attorney, the court, or the police. If the threat is a real one, they will act immediately. If an abduction is still only a possibility, they can help you prevent one and give you the resources you need.
It is important to understand that if you see concrete signs of an abduction, such as plane tickets, packed luggage, or written proof, you need to act immediately. Call the police and make sure your children are safe.
Do you need the help of a Washington child custody attorney? The lawyers at the Law Offices of Molly B. Kenny may be able to lend their assistance. Call today to schedule an appointment at 425-460-0550.
What should I do with my kids during their weekend child visitation?
It can be difficult to understand how your role as a parent changes when you have shared physical custody after a divorce – or what exactly you should do during your weekend child visitations. Here are a few quick tips and ideas:
- Keep a schedule, but be flexible – Children thrive on schedules, but flexibility is key, especially if you have your children on the weekends. Plan on regular meals and regular morning and bedtime routines. A little spontaneous fun is good, too.
- Find out if your children have plans – If you have school-aged children, they will likely have weekend activities somewhat often, from a sleepover to a little league game to a school play. Make sure that all of these events are listed on a common family calendar.
- Resist being a Disneyland Dad – Whether you are a mom or a dad, try to avoid making weekends non-stop adventures filled with ice cream and thrills. Don’t try to buy your children’s love or make up for the divorce. Your children need love and security—and your attention.
- Take an interest in your child and share your own interests – Try to balance the weekend between things your child enjoys and your own interests. If your kids are old enough, ask them what they’d like to do.
- Quality time is most important – Whether you are hanging out in your backyard or at a baseball game, the most important thing you can do is spending quality time with your kids. Talk to them. Ask them questions. Listen to what they have to say. Love them. That’s more important than any activity.
To schedule a consultation with a Washington family lawyer, call the Law Offices of Molly B. Kenny today at 425-460-0550.
How Does the Court Determine the Best Interests of a Child?
When reading about child custody and child support in Washington State, it is likely that you have read the phrase, “the best interests of the child.” But what exactly does this phrase mean, and how does the court determine it?
Very simply, determining the best interests of a child is determining the life a child should have that best preserves their wellbeing, health, and happiness. When a child’s parents divorce, separate, or break up, it can be difficult to know where that child should live, who makes decisions for the child, and who will financially support the child. A judge can look at the evidence in the case and answer these questions based on what environment and parenting plan will best benefit the child.
The best interests of a child are based on the child’s needs and—if the child is old enough and mature enough—the child’s wishes. It is important to understand that a younger child’s wishes may not be in their best interest. In fact, a parent’s wants and wishes may not be in a child’s best interest.
In Washington State, it is usually in the best interest of the child to keep an ongoing relationship with both parents, unless one parent has a potentially harmful issue, such as drug addiction or violent tendencies. Most Washington parenting plans involve joint custody and a visitation schedule, though the details of these plans vary widely from family to family.
Every parent wants what is ultimately best for their child. If you need a Seattle child custody attorney, call Molly B. Kenny today: 425-460-0550.
Will my disability affect my Washington State child custody case?
Unfortunately, parents with mental and physical disabilities are often discriminated against when it comes to child custody cases and divorce proceedings. While there are laws in place to protect the rights of the disabled, there are also a number of troubling recent cases in which children have been unjustly taken from the homes of their disabled parents.
At the heart of every child custody case in Washington State are the best interests of the child. In many cases, this means that a child will be in contact with both of his or her parents regardless of their medical conditions. However, this may also mean that a parent that is suffering from a severe mental illness or physical disability may not get physical custody of their children if they are unable to properly care for them. In the end, the court will balance the rights of the disabled parent with the wellbeing of the child or children in question.
If you are disabled and have lost custody of your child, do not lose hope. You may be able to fight to get your kids back if you can prove that you are an effective, loving, and capable parent despite your limitations.
Every child custody case is different. To learn more about whether your disability could affect your chances of getting custody of your child, consider speaking to a Seattle child custody attorney about the unique details of your case. Call Molly B. Kenny today at 425-460-0550 to schedule a meeting with an experienced family lawyer.
Can I Go to Court to Terminate the Parental Rights of My Ex?
Whether or not a judge will consider the termination of your ex-spouse’s parental rights depends on the specifics of your child custody case. However, in Washington State, the courts generally do not wish to terminate a parent’s rights except in the most extreme circumstances. Under Washington law, judges will always act in the best interests of the child in question. It is rare that completely severing a relationship between children and one of their biological parents is a positive change–unless a child is in danger of being physically or emotionally harmed by the parent (or has been in the past).
Generally, you must have a very strong reason to try to terminate the parental rights of your child’s other parent–and that reason must involve the wellbeing of your child, not you. If you simply want your ex out of your life, it is unlikely you will be able to terminate parental rights even if your ex is not currently contributing to your child’s life.
You may have a better chance of terminating parental rights if someone else is willing to adopt the child and care for his or her needs, such as your new spouse. Again, this may only be possible if the biological parent has abandoned your child and if he or she voluntarily relinquishes his or her rights.
It is important to realize that the termination of parental rights can have a serious affect on your child or children: without parental rights, your ex will not have the legal right to contact, influence, or care for your kids. In addition, they will not have the obligation to pay child support or financially assist your child in any way.
Do you have more questions about the termination of parental rights in Washington State? Call the Law Offices of Molly B. Kenny today: 425-460-0550.
Will moving in with my new boyfriend or girlfriend affect my child custody case?
Washington State divorce and child custody cases can take months and even years – and it is not surprising that some move on to new romantic relationships during the divorce proceedings or during the child custody proceedings. In some cases, divorcees wonder if they can cohabitate with their new partner and if this move would affect their chances of receiving custody rights or visitation rights.
As with all cases, the answer to this question depends on the unique details of your individual case, as all child custody cases are different. And as with all cases, child custody is decided largely based on the best interests of the child. That means that the only way that cohabitation during child custody will affect the outcome is if your new boyfriend or girlfriend adversely affects the life of the child. For example, if you have an unhealthy relationship with your new partner, if your child voices issues with the partner, or if your partner has an unhealthy affect on the relationship, it will affect your case outcome. Absolutely do not move in with a boyfriend or girlfriend who suffers from a drug or alcohol addiction, who has a history of domestic violence, or who has a serious criminal history.
Do you have other questions about your Seattle child custody case? Contact a Washington family lawyer at the Law Offices of Molly B. Kenny today.
What is spiritual custody? What is religious custody?
If you followed the celebrity divorce between actors Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, you have no doubt also heard the phrase, “spiritual custody”. But what does it mean, and how are spiritual custody disputes resolved?
Spiritual custody disputes sometimes take place between an interfaith couple with children who have filed for divorce. Whether or not the couple had previously agreed on a way to raise their children spiritually or teach them about religion, it is possible that they could disagree on their children’s spiritual upbringing during the child custody process. For example, one parent could refuse to take their children to a certain church or temple, while another parent may have their children participate in religious ceremonies without the other parent’s approval or knowledge.
Spiritual custody disputes are often extremely sensitive matters. When and if the issue goes to court, a judge should approach the matter without favoring any particular religious or spiritual tradition. Instead, a judge will, as with all other aspects of child custody, consider what is in the best interests of the child. Usually, the best interests of the child involve the child continuing whatever religious upbringing he or she has had so far and the child being exposed to both its mother’s and father’s religious beliefs as long as they do not mentally or physically harm the child.
If you are in a Washington State spiritual custody dispute, you may wish to speak with a Seattle child custody attorney about your case.
Does My Child Get a Say When it Comes to Washington Child Custody Laws?
Whether or not your child gets to help with the decision of his or her custody depends heavily on the individual details of the specific case. In some cases, a child’s feelings may be weighed heavily by the court and his or her parents. In other cases, a child may be placed in a home against his or her wishes.
In all cases, the court will decide custody based on the best interests of the child. Sometimes that means that a child is placed with a person the child prefers, but sometimes it means the opposite.
If a child is mature enough to add input to the situation, his or her wishes could be considered. Likewise, if a child has obviously bonded with one parent over the other, many judges will consider the emotional damage that would occur if the child and parent were separated.
If a child wishes to live with a parent who suffers from substance abuse issues, who has a violent criminal history, or who does not look after the child’s basic needs, a judge may decide to place the child in a different home against his or her wishes.
Do you need the counsel of a Seattle child custody lawyer? Call Molly B. Kenny today.
What Are Monitored Exchanges or Supervised Exchanges?
A supervised exchange or a monitored exchange takes place when a third party assists with the child visitation transitions from the home of one parent (or legal guardian) to another. Supervised exchanges help ensure that parents going through a difficult divorce or child custody battle do not have to have contact with one another – and that their children have a positive experience during the exchange.
A supervised exchange can either be handled by a mutually-agreed upon monitor (such as a relative, a friend of the family, or a child care provider) or by a trained professional (such as a social worker).
The goal of a supervised exchange is to smoothly transition children from one household to another without conflict. If both parents are present at the exchange, conflict, arguments, or even domestic violence could take place, exposing children to unhealthy experiences. A monitor at the exchange can help keep the environment neutral, child-centered, and under control.
Do you have a Washington child custody case that necessitates a Seattle child custody lawyer? Contact Molly B. Kenny today to schedule a meeting with a family law attorney.
Could My Depression Affect My Child Custody Case?
Depression is the most common mental illness in America, and millions of people suffer from bouts of depression, especially after a traumatic experience like a divorce, a job loss, a death in the family or financial stress. Did you know that one out of ten Americans will suffer from clinical depression at some time in their lives? Recently, you may have read news stories about more and more spouses citing an ex’s depression in child custody cases.
A judge will only make custody decisions based on the best interests of a child. When it comes to considering a history of depression in one of the child’s parents, a judge will likely consider how long or how often depression has affected the parent, whether the parent has received treatment for the depression, and how the depression might affect a child’s home life. It is important to note that there is a significant difference between suffering from depression during a hard time in your life and suffering from lifelong major depression or manic depression.
What Should I do if I'm Worried My History of Depression Will Affect My Custody Case?
- Get an accurate diagnosis from a doctor. If you are depressed, don’t attempt to hide it because of a child custody case. Go to a doctor and get an accurate evaluation of the situation. There is a big difference between suffering a bout of depression, suffering from major depression, being manic depressive, and being suicidal. Make certain that what you are suffering from is made clear to the judge.
- Get the appropriate treatment. Most doctors recommend a combination of medication and counseling for those with depression. It is vital that you treat your depression, both to manage your illness and to show that you know how to recognize and confront difficult issues in your life.
- Ask yourself if your depression is affecting your children. If you are too depressed to give your children a loving home life or to fulfill their basic needs, you may not be the best parent for them at this time. As difficult as it is, be honest about your own ability to care for children and about what is in the best interest of your kids.
- Get an experienced Seattle child custody attorney. It is possible to get custody of your children despite a history of depression, but it is important to understand that the subject must be handled quickly and correctly. To speak with an experienced Bellevue family law attorney today, call Molly Kenny to make an appointment.
Unfortunately, although depression is a relatively common health issue, those suffering from depression are often stigmatized or unfairly treated. For example, it is more and more common for a parent to cite a history of depression in their ex in an attempt to gain child custody. While some people are indeed too affected by major depression to care for their children, others may be managing their depression and perfectly capable of providing their children with the stable environment and care that they need.
If you are involved in a Washington State child custody case and worry that your history of depression may hurt your chances of gaining custody of your children, it is critical to speak with a Seattle child custody attorney about your case. Call Molly Kenny today for more information.
Could My History of Mental Illness Affect My Child Custody Case?
If your mental illness affects your ability to raise your children and provide them with a stable, loving environment, it may well affect the outcome of your Washington State child custody case. However, if you are being successfully treated for your mental illness or if your illness is mild in nature, it may not be a significant issue in your case.
Child custody decisions are always made in the best interest of the child, and many judges agree that it is ideal for a child to have healthy relationships with both of his or her parents. If you suffer from a manageable mental illness, such as anxiety or depression, your health issue should not greatly affect your chances of custody. However, if you suffer from a severe mental illness, such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, a judge may choose a healthier and more stable environment for your children.
All Washington child custody cases are different. If you are facing a child custody dispute and worry that a mental illness might be a factor in your case, it is important that you discuss the details with a Bellevue family law attorney who can help. Call Molly Kenny today to schedule a private, no-obligation meeting.
What Is A Guardian Ad Litem?
In some divorce and child custody cases in Washington State, a specially-trained guardian ad litem (GAL) is assigned to the case by the court to investigate and determine what the best interests of the child or children is. A guardian ad litem may interview the child, the child’s parents, the child’s teachers, and other important figures in the child’s life. The guardian ad litem will also often visit the child’s home and other significant environments. After the investigation and interviews are complete, the guardian ad litem will report back to the judge what the best interests of the child are and give his or her recommendations. In addition to acting as an advocate for minors, a guardian ad litem may also represent the interests of adults who are incapacitated. In addition to being used in divorce and child custody cases, a guardian ad litem may also be used in child abuse cases, child neglect cases, adoption cases, and juvenile delinquency cases.
What is Shared Child Custody, And How Does it Work?
Shared child custody, also known as joint custody, allows both parents to have physical time with their children as well as a shared legal say in their children’s lives. Shared physical child custody works best if the children’s parents live close by and if the child gets along well with both parents. Shared legal custody works best if both parents are able to openly communicate and compromise with each other when it comes to making decisions regarding their kids. If you and your ex are thinking about shared physical custody or joint legal custody, or if you are not happy with your current child custody agreement, speak with a Seattle family law attorney today about your case.
Could Smoking Cigarettes Affect My Child Custody Case?
As with all other aspects of child custody cases, judges make decisions regarding custody based solely on the best interests of the children involved. With that in mind, the presence of secondhand smoke in the home could be a factor in the decision. In the past, a smoking parent has faced the loss of child custody, restricted visitation rights, or smoking restrictions related to child custody or child visitation. If you do smoke, be sure to set rules for yourself in order to minimize secondhand smoke exposure, such as only smoking outside, only smoking in one room of your home, and never smoking in the car with your children. Even better, try to give up the habit of smoking altogether for the health of your family. Do you fear that your smoking could affect your child custody case in Washington? Talk to a Seattle family law attorney today.
Can I Change My Childs Last Name After A Divorce?
Like most aspects of child custody in Washington State, this decision is made according to the best interests of the child. With that in mind, the answer depends very much on the particulars of your individual case. The court may ask the following questions: Is the child old enough to have a say in the matter? Is the child’s other parent still in the child’s life? How would a surname change affect the child at this time? How long has the child had his or her current surname? Will the child’s name differ from other surnames in his or her household? Will the child’s name change affect his or her relationship with one parent?
If I Want To Move Out During A Divorce, Will It Hurt My Chances For Custody If I Leave My Kids With My Spouse?
Washington State child custody decisions very much depend on the specific details of your own case; however, historically it may hurt your chances for child custody if you leave the marital home without your children before or during the divorce process. Leaving your home without your children sends a message about who should primarily care for the children – and granting you custody after you have left may be seen as a larger disruption to the children’s lives. To ensure that you are treated fairly when it comes to child custody, talk to a Seattle family law attorney about your situation before making any big moves.