In Washington, it is not possible to obtain sole custody of an unborn child because courts will not make custody determinations until the child is born. However, courts cannot delay or deny a divorce based on a pregnancy, meaning you may still divorce while one spouse is pregnant, and then reserve the issue of custody until later. Like all states, courts in Washington will determine custody based on what is in the best interests of the child.
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"Sole Custody" Overview
Once the child is born, you may obtain a parenting plan. The Washington courts do not use terms such as "joint custody" or "sole custody." Instead, a parenting plan spells out how much time the child will spend with each parent, who makes decisions for the child, and how conflicts between the parents should be resolved. The parents may come up with their own parenting plan, which the court will likely approve. When the parents cannot agree, the court will hold a hearing to determine the parenting plan based on what is in the best interests of the child.
Proposed Parenting Plan
If you and your spouse cannot agree to the parenting schedule, you may submit a proposed parenting plan to have the court determine the custody arrangement. The plan may be submitted as part of the original divorce petition, even though the judge will not determine custody until after the child is born. You may "reserve" the issue of custody until after the child is born, meaning you do not need to pay a new filing fee to determine custody at the later date. On the parenting plan form you may ask the court to not award any parenting time to the other parent.
Unless the court finds that one parent is "unfit," both parents will have the right to spend time with and make decisions for the child. For example, if a parent provides evidence of physical or sexual abuse, or a parent willfully abandoned the child for an extended period of time, the court in its discretion may find that the parent is unfit. In making decisions on custody, the court is primarily concerned with what is in the best interests of the child, and parenting time will only be restricted if the child's health or safety may be at risk. As an alternative to restricting parenting time, the court may instead order supervised visitation.
Agreed Parenting Plan
The parents may agree that only one parent should take care of the child. In this case, the parents may submit an agreed upon parenting plan to the court, which in most cases, the court will approve. However, the court will still review the parenting plan, and the plan may be rejected if the court finds it is not in the child's best interests. While it is ultimately up to the discretion of the court, in previous cases Washington courts have approved parenting plans which only gave parenting time to one parent, even where the other parent was not found unfit.