6 People to Know in Washington Child Custody Cases

Your Washington custody case may involve many professionals.

Generally, each one is appointed by a judge, sometimes following a request from a parent. The judge decides how parents split the professional's fees, unless parents reach their own agreement.

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Guardian ad litem

A guardian ad litem (GAL) investigates your family, then submits a report to the court that can be used in trial.

Concerns about issues like domestic violence, questionable parenting or a child's special needs often prompt the judge to appoint a GAL. If the judge allows it, parents may select their own GAL.

GALs are family lawyers, mental health professionals or other trained individuals. A GAL doesn't directly represent the child, though they do advocate for the child's best interests.

To begin their investigation, the guardian ad litem interviews each parent and child in the case. They may also conduct home studies. GALs often speak with others who know the family, including relatives, friends, teachers and medical providers.

At the end of the investigation, the GAL gives the court a recommendation for a parenting plan and residential schedule, along with details of what they observed. If you disagree with the GAL's report, you can voice this during a hearing or trial. You can call them to testify in court.

GALs typically charge $100 to $300 an hour. Many charge a retainer of $1,000 to $3,000 to cover a certain amount of work up front.

Parenting evaluator

A parenting evaluator functions similarly to a GAL, with a focus on mental health. They, too, evaluate your family and submit a report with custody recommendations to the court.

Unlike GALs, evaluators are always mental health professionals; they can conduct psychological tests and recommend therapy. Another difference from GALs is that evaluators do not testify in court.

You can select an evaluator with the other parent or have the judge choose one for you.

Parenting evaluators are expensive, often costing parents thousands of dollars each. The more children in your case, the more an evaluation will cost.

Parenting coordinator

A coordinator helps parents communicate, defuse tension and resolve day-to-day child-rearing issues. They are usually mediators or mental health professionals.

Importantly, coordinators can make decisions for parents who reach a standstill in a debate, though they can't make permanent changes to a residential schedule. However, parents can agree to limit the areas in which the coordinator has final say (e.g., education issues, but not religion).

Judges most often appoint a parenting coordinator after mediation has failed and tensions between parents remain high. Your permanent order may require you to continue meeting with the coordinator after your case concludes.

Parents are responsible for paying the coordinator's fees.

Child specialist

A child specialist helps parents make a parenting plan and provides information on child development. They may also speak with the child in the case.

Child specialists are often part of a collaborative law team, but they can assist parents in any custody case. Judges do not appoint these specialists; parents hire them voluntarily.

Reunification counselor

A reunification counselor helps rebuild the relationship between parent and child. Parents can hire a reunification counselor voluntarily, or the court may order them to use one.

A judge is most likely to order reunification counseling in cases involving parental alienation or when a parent has a history of abuse or incarceration.

Usually, one parent pays the coordinator's fees — whichever one caused the relationship with the child to deteriorate.

Family law commissioner

A family law commissioner takes on many of the responsibilities of a family law judge to help ease caseloads. Commissioners are usually lawyers.

Under the direction of a judge, a commissioner can sign off on certain court orders, preside over hearings and perform other judicial duties assigned to them.

If you have a concern with the ruling made by a commissioner, you can submit a motion for revision.

Professional technology

The professionals working on your case have many tools on hand. One of them is available to parents, too: Custody X Change.

With a parenting plan template, residential calendars, a custody journal and beyond, the Custody X Change app makes sure you're prepared for whatever arises in your journey to custody.

Take advantage of the technology the professionals use, and get what's best for your child.

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