How to File for Child Custody in Washington State

By Beverly Bird

Custody of your children can be a major issue before, during and even after divorce. During your divorce process, you may need a temporary order to hold your custody arrangement in place until your divorce is final. After divorce, circumstances may change, warranting a change of custody. Although custody litigation is never easy, the process of filing to initiate a custody decision is relatively straightforward in Washington.

Custody of your children can be a major issue before, during and even after divorce. During your divorce process, you may need a temporary order to hold your custody arrangement in place until your divorce is final. After divorce, circumstances may change, warranting a change of custody. Although custody litigation is never easy, the process of filing to initiate a custody decision is relatively straightforward in Washington.

During Divorce

Step 1

Prepare a petition for dissolution of marriage. An online legal document preparation service can help you with this if your divorce is uncontested. Otherwise, Washington is one of a handful of states with an extensive library of legal documents available online from the court’s website. Paragraphs 1.3, 1.14 and 1.15 of the petition are pertinent to custody issues. Paragraph 1.3 simply asks for the names of your children and their ages. Paragraphs 1.14 and 1.15 ask you for information such as whether you and your spouse have ever litigated custody before, and with whom your children have lived for the past five years. On the last page, under Section II -- your requested "relief" -- check the second box, asking the court to approve your proposed parenting plan for a custody arrangement.

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Step 2

Prepare a parenting plan. A form for this document is also available on the court’s website. It’s an extensive document, 11 pages in all. Section I asks you to repeat the general information you gave regarding your children in your petition. Section II asks you if you want to restrict your children’s time with their other parent. If so, you must explain why. In Section III, suggest a visitation schedule for when your children will spend time with their other parent, explaining who will pick up and drop off the children and where they’ll spend both major and non-major holidays. Use Section IV to tell the court if you’re willing to share decision-making rights with your children’s other parent -- and, if not, why. In Section V, you must propose a plan for the court regarding how you’ll work out any future custody disputes with your spouse.

Step 3

Sign your parenting plan on the last page, attesting that you’re presenting it to the court in good faith. This generally means that you honestly believe the plan to be in the best interests of your children. If you and your spouse are in agreement about custody, you can sign the plan jointly and submit it together. Don’t write anything in the last section, Section VIII. This is where the judge will sign when and if he approves your plan.

Step 4

File your petition and parenting plan in the Washington county where you’re seeking a divorce. You can file them simultaneously, or -- if you need additional time to complete the parenting plan -- you can submit the plan after you file for divorce. If you and your spouse file the parenting plan together, the judge may approve it without a hearing. Otherwise, he will schedule a hearing to determine temporary custody until he issues a decision regarding final custody at your divorce trial.

Post-Divorce

Step 1

Consult with an attorney if you want to change your custody arrangement post-divorce, after it has been incorporated into your decree. Washington courts are reluctant to change custody without a compelling reason, and you’ll probably need firm, provable grounds. An attorney can tell you if your reason for changing custody is something that will stand up in court, such as that you’ve had to take your ex back to court repeatedly because he’s broken the custody terms of the decree, or that circumstances in your ex’s home have changed dramatically and now pose a threat to your child’s well-being.

Step 2

Access a petition for custody modification from Washington’s court website. Complete the petition, explaining the new custody terms you would like the court to order, and why you feel a modification is necessary.

Step 3

Attach a certified copy of your divorce decree or other custody order to your petition. A certified copy is an official copy, which you can request from the court clerk. Generally, you cannot use a photocopy. Sign the petition and file it with the court. If you and your ex agree to a change of custody, you can file the petition together, and the court will usually grant your request. Otherwise, the judge will probably order a hearing.

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My Ex-Wife Is Trying to Gain Custody of Our Children after Our Divorce Decree

References

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Illinois State Laws on Obtaining Sole Custody

If you're contemplating divorce or about to start the process, you may be feeling a bit uncertain or even overwhelmed, especially if you have children. However, knowing what to expect and understanding how to navigate the system can greatly reduce any stress you may be feeling. This is especially true if you intend to petition the court for sole custody of your children. In Illinois, the court will only choose this arrangement if it serves the best interests of your child.

Can You Go Back to Court for Custody After You Gave Your Child to Your Spouse?

Parents always maintain the right to go back to court to change custody arrangements after their divorce is final. The real question is whether the court will grant a request for modification of your order. Courts don’t want to force children to live in a bad situation when their custodial parent’s circumstances change, but neither do they want to move children back and forth between parents without good cause. Changes that warrant a modification of custody must usually be material, substantial and occur in the home in which the child is living.

Is a Verbal Agreement Binding in a Divorce Decree in Colorado?

An agreement can make the divorce process move along quicker and cheaper since you won’t spend time and money arguing in court. Colorado permits spouses to agree on all the key terms of a divorce -- property division, child custody, alimony and other issues – and incorporate their agreement into the final divorce decree. However, the terms must be in writing to become part of the divorce decree.

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