best interests of the child for washington

Washington Rev Code § 26.09.002 states the determination and allocation of parental responsibilities in any proceeding between parents shall be based on the child’s best interests as determined by the court.

The best interests of the child are served by a parenting arrangement that best maintains a child’s emotional growth, health and stability, and physical care.

Generally, the child’s best interests are served when the existing pattern of interaction between a parent and child is modified only to the degree necessary to accommodate the parents’ changing relationship or to safeguard the child from physical, mental, or emotional harm.

Parenting Plan

A custody/visitation order is referred to in Washington as a parenting plan. While the case is ongoing, a temporary parenting plan is implemented until a final ruling is reached.

A temporary parenting plan, like a permanent or final parenting plan, will address each parent’s right to make medical or educational decisions on behalf of the child. A temporary parenting plan will also specify when and where the child’s visits and exchanges will occur.

A permanent parenting plan gives rights and responsibilities to each parent and often specifies how much time the child will spend with each parent, who will make child-related choices, how parental disagreements will be settled, and any restrictions on parenting functions.

The parenting plan’s objectives are to provide for the child’s physical care, to maintain the child’s emotional stability, to meet the child’s changing needs, to define each parent’s responsibilities, to minimize the child’s exposure to parental conflict, to encourage parents to avoid judicial intervention, and to protect the child’s best interests. (See R.C.W. § 26.09.184)

Once a court-ordered permanent parenting plan is adopted, both parents must adhere to its provisions until the child reaches the age of 18, is emancipated, or the parenting plan is modified.

Residential Provisions

The court shall determine residential arrangements for each child that encourage each parent to retain a loving, stable, and caring relationship with the child, taking into account the child’s developmental stage and the family’s socioeconomic circumstances.

According to RCW § 26.09.187, the court shall take the following factors into account for the residential provisions of the child:

  1. The relative strength, nature, and stability of the child’s relationship with each parent;
  2. The agreements of the parties, provided they were entered into knowingly and voluntarily;
  3. Each parent’s past and potential for future performance of parenting functions including whether a parent has taken greater responsibility for performing parenting functions relating to the daily needs of the child;
  4. The emotional needs and developmental level of the child;
  5. The child’s relationship with siblings and with other significant adults, as well as the child’s involvement with his or her physical surroundings, school, or other significant activities;
  6. The wishes of the parents and the wishes of a child who is sufficiently mature to express reasoned and independent preferences as to his or her residential schedule; and
  7. Each parent’s employment schedule, and shall make accommodations consistent with those schedules.

Restrictions in Parenting Plans

If any of the following factors present, a parent’s engagement or conduct may be detrimental to the child’s best interests, and the court may exclude or limit any provisions of the parenting plan: WA Rev Code § 26.09.191

  1. A parent’s neglect or substantial nonperformance of parenting functions;
  2. A long-term emotional or physical impairment which interferes with the parent’s performance of parenting functions;
  3. A long-term impairment resulting from drug, alcohol, or other substance abuse that interferes with the performance of parenting functions;
  4. The absence or substantial impairment of emotional ties between the parent and the child;
  5. The abusive use of conflict by the parent which creates the danger of serious damage to the child’s psychological development;
  6. A parent has withheld from the other parent access to the child for a protracted period without good cause; or
  7. Such other factors or conduct as the court expressly finds adverse to the best interests of the child.

Visitation Rights

The juvenile court may approve visitation if it determines that all conditions have been satisfied, that unsupervised contact between the child and the relative does not pose a risk to the child’s safety or well-being, and that the visitation is in the child’s best interests.

The court shall consider, but is not limited to, the following when deciding the child’s best interests: WA Rev Code § 13.34.385

  1. The love, affection, and strength of the relationship between the child and the relative;
  2. The length and quality of the prior relationship between the child and the relative;
  3. Any criminal convictions for or founded history of abuse or neglect of a child by the relative;
  4. Whether the visitation will present a risk to the child’s health, welfare, or safety;
  5. The child’s reasonable preference, if the court considers the child to be of sufficient age to express a preference;
  6. Any other factor relevant to the child’s best interest.

An order granting visitation can be modified at any time to protect the child’s safety or well-being. The visitation order shall state that visits will terminate automatically if the child is placed in a pre-adoptive home, if the child is adopted, or if the relative is later charged with abuse or neglect.