Spokane Child Custody Attorney
Caring and Trusted Custody Lawyer in Spokane, WA
Child custody and visitation is often the most emotionally charged issue in divorce, separation, and paternity cases. This area of law can be fraught with confusion, uncertainty, unrealistic expectations, and an adversarial context never before encountered. At such a time, you need the support and guidance of an experienced family law attorney who can help you navigate the process in a way that will ensure you understand your legal rights, the court process, how best to proceed given the unique aspects of your case, and how to most likely achieve your desired outcomes.
Why Choose to Work With My Firm?
My firm, Ellen M. Hendrick PLLC, is here to help you at this critical time. As a child custody attorney in Spokane, I have been assisting parents and other individuals with custody issues since 2003. With more than a decade and a half of experience in this field, I offer a depth of personal knowledge, legal skills, and a strong dedication to helping you to optimally resolve your custody issues in ways that leave your parent-child relationships fully intact. I urge you to take advantage of my long-standing legal presence and expertise in representing clients in child custody matters in Washington State.
How Child Custody for Biological Parents Is Handled in Washington State
To minimize custody disputes and their “win or lose” connotation, the state of Washington has replaced the concepts of “custody” and “visitation” with “parenting” and “residential care.” Parents or others involved in determining the custody of and residential provisions for children are required to develop a “parenting plan.”
Parenting plans should be flexible frameworks that do the following:
- Establish residential provisions for the child
- Establish decision-making responsibilities (health care, schooling, religious upbringing, and other important life issues) between the parents
- Provide a way for resolving any future disputes between the parents about the child’s care
In creating final parenting plans where paternity of the child has been established, the Court must determine what parenting plan is in the child’s best interests. The Court must first determine whether a parent’s residential time with the child should be limited because of prior acts of domestic violence, abuse, neglect, or history of substance abuse or mental or physical illnesses that interfere with that parent’s ability to successfully parent the child.
What Factors are Considered When Establishing Custody in WA?
If there are no limiting factors, the Court then considers seven additional statutory factors - it is not simply 50/50 custody in Washington State. The factor given the greatest weight is the strength and stability of the child’s relationship with each parent. As influenced by the age of the child, the Court will also consider whether the parents had agreements about parenting, the parents’ past and potential for future parenting of the child, the child’s emotional and developmental needs, the child’s relationships with siblings, significant others, and their school and activities, and the parents’ wishes.
Parenting Plans in Paternity Actions
Major changes were made to the Washington State statutes governing paternity actions as of January 1, 2019. In Washington State, paternity can be presumed, acknowledged, or adjudicated. Once paternity has been established, the Court would apply the same process for determining a final parenting plan as it would apply where paternity is known. I have represented hundreds of clients, mothers and fathers, in obtaining final parenting plans that ensured they had frequent and consistent time with their children, joint decision-making authority, and effective dispute resolution provisions.
Modifying a Parenting Plan in Washington State
In most Washington State counties, unless there is an emergency situation threatening the safety of a child or a history of domestic violence, the courts require parents to mediate parenting disputes before coming back to court for a judge to resolve. The Courts and the legislature have determined that it is in the best interests of children to maintain custodial continuity as long as the child is not at risk of harm under the current plan.
A party may seek a Major Modification or an Adjustment to the current parenting plan if they can show there is adequate cause to proceed on the petition. To prevail on a Major Modification request, a parent or custodian, must submit a Petition and affidavit setting forth facts that have arisen since the current parenting plan was enacted, or facts not known to the court at the time the current parenting plan was enacted, that show there has been a substantial change in the circumstances of the child or the other parent.
Bases supporting a major modification include:
- the parties agree to the modification;
- the child has been integrated into the home of the non-primary parent with the understanding that custody would change to that parent;
- the child’s home environment is detrimental to the child’s physical, emotional, or mental health; or
- the non-moving party has been found in contempt for withholding the child twice within the past three years.
Even if the court concludes that the moving parent has satisfied one of the factors, the court must determine that the proposed modification is in the child’s best interests.
A parent may petition for an Adjustment to a current parenting plan if they can show a substantial change in the circumstances of either parent or the child, and that the proposed modification does not change the child’s primary place of residence. A parent whose work schedule has changed making the current parenting plan impossible to follow, or a parent who has an insufficient amount of time with the child may seek an adjustment.
As with a major modification, the court must find that the proposed modifications are in the best interests of the child. Adjustments to the non-residential portions of a parenting plan, major decision-making, dispute resolution, or transportation, may also be sought, by showing a substantial change in the circumstances of either parent or the child and by showing the proposed adjustment is in the child’s best interests.
Is a Parenting Plan Legally Binding?
Once a parenting plan is approved by a judge, it becomes legally binding. Should a parent willfully refuse to abide by an agreed-upon or court-ordered plan, the court may find him or her in contempt and order sanctions and make up time.
If the parent with whom the child resides a majority of the time, or a person with substantially equal residential time (at least 45%) must give notice of an intended relocation to all other persons entitled to residential time with the child by personal service or by mail requiring a return receipt. The persons receiving notice must file an objection to the relocation within 30 days of service. If an objection is not timely filed, the relocation will be granted. The non-moving party may petition the court for a modification of the current parenting plan based solely upon the relocation request without having to show there is adequate cause to modify.
The best interest of the child is not the standard the court will apply in a relocation action. If an objection is timely filed there will be a hearing to determine whether the relocation will be granted. If the parent giving notice has more than 50% of the residential time, there is a rebuttable presumption that the intended relocation of the child will be permitted. The objecting party can rebut the presumption by showing that the detrimental effect of the relocation outweighs the benefits of the relocation to the child.
To make that determination, the Court will consider eleven, non-weighted factors. Each party shall submit an affidavit stating facts supporting why those factors weigh in favor of or against the relocation. If the relocation is within the child’s current school district, only reasonable notice is required, and the non-relocating parent may not object.
An order authorizing a temporary relocation does not end the case. If the non-relocating parent wishes, the matter will proceed to trial; where the trial court will consider all of the factors and render its final decision. As an accomplished custody lawyer in Spokane, WA I have assisted numerous clients in relocation actions, and have successfully obtained orders both granting and denying relocation requests.
De Facto Parentage Claims
As a Spokane child custody lawyer, I handle all of the above situations involving child custody. I also handle de facto parentage claims, wherein a non-biological parent with whom a child has resided seeks to maintain his or her legal parental rights through the courts. These rights would include those that are a part of any parenting plan.
Contact Ellen M. Hendrick PLLC
With over 16 years of experience handling countless large-asset, high-conflict divorces and associated family law matters, no case is too complex for me. I am prepared to take on your case and fight to deliver the best possible results.
“Ellen is a fighter and I feel extremely grateful for her invaluable representation.”- Patrick R.
“She is fair and provides outstanding and rationale advice.”- Former Client
“If you are looking for a hard-working never quit trying the type of lawyer that will give you 100% all the time then go with Ellen ...”- Chris and Vicki