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Know the Laws: Washington

UPDATED October 1, 2012

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WomensLaw.org strongly recommends that you get help from an organization in your area before proceeding with court action.  Go to our WA Where to Find Help page for a listing of agencies and legal services in Washington State.

For additional information and for self-help resources, you can visit:www.lawhelp.org/wa

Who can get custody

back to topWho can be part of the parenting plan?

The judge will try to incorporate both parents into the parenting plan.  However, if one parent is unfit, a judge can award all of the parenting time and decision making authority to the other parent.*

In addition, a non-parent with a significant connection to the child might be able to ask for custody. A petition for non-parental custody must be filed where the child lives, and only if the child is not in the physical custody of one of its parents, or if neither parent is a suitable caregiver.**  Custody will be determined in the best interests of the child.*** For more information see What if I am not the child’s parent?

* R.C.W. § 26.09.191
** R.C.W. § 26.10.030(1)
*** R.C.W. § 26.10.100

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back to topCan a parent who committed violence get “parenting time”?

Maybe.  Although the courts try to make sure the child has frequent and continuing contact with both parents, the judge should take acts of domestic violence into consideration when making a decision about custody.  Evidence of domestic violence may likely limit “parenting time.”*  The judge should consider whether or not the victim pressed criminal charges or got a protective order against her abuser.*1

The court may limit a parent’s residential time with the child if they find that the parent has engaged in any of the following behavior:

  • willful abandonment for a long period of time or a refusal to perform parenting functions;
  • physical, sexual, or emotional abuse of the child;
  • history of domestic violence or assault/sexual assault that causes harm or the fear of harm; or
  • conviction of a sex offense.*2
In cases involving domestic violence or child abuse where residential time is ordered, the judge can:
  • order the exchange of the child to occur in a protected setting;
  • order the residential time to be supervised by a neutral adult who is capable of protecting the child from harm and is willing to do so.  If the court allows a family or household member to supervise residential time, the judge  must establish conditions to be followed during residential time.*3
Note: If you prove that there has been domestic violence or child abuse, the judge cannot require you to give any information to the abuser that could allow him/her to figure out where you are staying, or the name, location, or address of your employer or school.*4

* R.C.W. § 26.09.191(2)(a)(iii)
*1 R.C.W. § 26.09.191
*2 R.C.W. § 26.09.191(2)(a)
*3 R.C.W. § 26.09.013(5)
*4 R.C.W. § 26.09.013(56

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back to topCan a parent who committed a sexual offense get “parenting time”?

Maybe.  It is assumed that a parent who has been convicted as an adult of a sex offense poses a danger to the child.  Unless the parent challenges this assumption, the judge should restrict the parent’s contact with the child.*

* R.C.W. § 26.09.191(2)(d)

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back to topCan a parent who lives with a convicted sexual offender get “parenting time”?

Maybe. The judge may limit a parent’s residential time with the child if s/he finds that a person living with the parent has been convicted of a sex offense. The judge assumes that this places the child at risk of abuse or harm and will restrict a parent from contact with the child except for contact outside of the convicted person’s presence.*

* R.C.W. § 26.09.191(2)(e)

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back to topWhat are other factors that may limit parenting time?

A judge may limit a parent’s contact with the child if any of the following factors exist:

  1. Neglect or non-performance of parenting functions
  2. A long-term emotional/physical impairment that interferes with parenting functions
  3. A long term impairment from substance abuse that interferes with parenting functions
  4. Absence/impairment of emotional ties between parent and child
  5. Danger of serious damage to child’s psychological development
  6. A parent has withheld access to the child without good cause
  7. Other factors that may negatively affect the child.*
* R.C.W. § 26.09.191(3)

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back to topCan a non-parent file for primary residential care of the child?

Maybe. In Washington state, a non-parent can file a non-parental custody action in the county where the child is a permanent resident or where the child is found, but only if:

  • the child is not living with either one of his/her parents; OR
  • if the non-parent alleges reasons why neither parent is a suitable custodian.*
The Washington Law Help website has frequently asked questions and instructions for filing a nonparental custody action.  You will also find other information packets that would be useful once the non-parental custody action has begun.** 

If you want to know more about this, please contact your local legal aid provider, a lawyer, or one of the resource centers listed on our WA Where to Find Help page.

* R.C.W. § 26.10.032
** WomensLaw.org has no relationship with that site and does not endorse its accuracy.  We provide it for your information only.

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WomensLaw.org would like to thank the Northwest Women's Law Center for their help with this material.

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