If you’re a parent going through a divorce, nothing matters as much as staying together with your children. When it comes to deciding custody, the court will scrutinize your parenting functions, home environment, and relationships with your children—and you will need supporting evidence to win your Washington state custody case.
Positioning and Evidence Tips to Get Custody of Your Children After Divorce in Washington State
While there could be a number of factors that influence custody, the most basic behaviors that lead to lost custody are outlined in the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) 26.09.191. Custody is awarded based on the best interests of the child(ren) and their emotional and physical safety. Children are considered at risk if a parent exhibits dangerous behavior, such as alcohol abuse or drug addictions, child abuse or neglect, or spousal abuse.
Under RCW 26.09.191, a parent’s time with their children can be limited if there is evidence of any dangerous or destructive behaviors. You should document any instances of these behaviors in your spouse (commonly known as “191 factors”) as they are of utmost importance when allocating a child’s residential time. Text messages, phone calls, photographs, medical records, and witness statements can all serve as evidence of a spouse’s 191 factors.
In addition to gathering evidence of abuse, you should also document how you meet the everyday needs of your child and how your living situation benefits them. This can be relevant during custody hearings or if your spouse requests a child custody evaluation. For example, you should have reliable evidence of:
- Your emotional bond with your child. If neither parent exhibits any 191 factors, the court will next look at the strength of each parent’s bond with the child. Parents bond with their children in different ways, but you should focus on the amount of quality time you spend doing activities with your child. Take pictures and write down important dates of shared events (such as trips to the zoo or a school play) to demonstrate the bond you have with each child.
- Performance of your parenting functions. If the child is bonded to both parents equitably, the court will consider each parent’s ability to meet the everyday needs of the child. Basic parenting functions include the ability to feed, clothe, supervise, protect, and support a child financially and emotionally. Courts are particularly concerned about each parent’s devotion to a child’s health, education, and happiness. You can start by making a list of the things you do for your child on a typical day, such as school (or day care) pick-up and drop-off, volunteering at school events, attending parent-teacher meetings, and your involvement in your child’s extracurricular activities. Add to this the names of your child's doctor, their most recent appointments, and relevant health conditions and how you address those needs. For example, if your child has asthma, note the type of inhaler they use, where they keep it, and whether you notified their teachers of their condition. If they have dietary restrictions, note how you have involved potential meal providers (such as telling the child’s teachers or other parents).
- The benefits of your living situation. Actions always speak louder than words in custody cases. If you move out before filing for divorce, your new place should have enough bedrooms for your children to have their own spaces. Your residence should be in an area with low crime, good schools, and medical facilities close by.
- How you are meeting your child’s needs during separation. The court will assess your willingness to do as much as you can during separation to ease your child’s transition to a new living situation. Anything you have already done for your child is worth more than promises made about the future, especially if the court has issued temporary parenting plans during separation. The court will assume that your past behavior is a good predictor of your future behavior, so if you have done something that reflects poorly on your parenting you should be ready to explain it.
Discuss Your Concerns with a Washington State Custody Attorney
At The Law Offices of Molly B. Kenny, we listen to your story and do everything we can to help you keep custody of your children. Call us at 425-460-0550 for a personalized assessment of your case, or learn more in our free guide, 9 Urban Myths About Divorce That Can Hurt You.