Special Circumstances in Washington Child Custody

No two child custody cases are the same. Find information below on circumstances that may arise during your case.

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History of crime, violence or substance abuse

A history of crime or substance abuse impacts a parent's chance of receiving custody.

The parent is likely to receive at least some residential time, perhaps with supervision required. The court may order therapy, classes or drug testing as a prerequisite.

However, courts rarely grant decision-making responsibilities to a parent who has issues with substances or domestic violence. When both parents have these issues, a judge looks for someone else to take custody of the child, usually the grandparents.

If allegations of substance abuse or domestic violence prove false, the parent who made them may face fines, legal repercussions and restrictions on decision-making responsibilities. They may also face accusations of parental alienation (details below).

Experts advise hiring a lawyer to help you prove your parental fitness if your actions have been called into question. The complexities of these cases are much greater than in standard custody cases.

Parental alienation

Parental alienation occurs when one parent attempts to distort their child's relationship with the other parent through false claims and manipulation.

Your judge will likely order a parenting evaluation if alienation is suspected or alleged. The evaluation will include interviews and psychological testing.

Parents who alienate can lose some or all of their residential time and decision-making responsibilities. Family members affected may be ordered to attend reunification counseling.

Consult with an attorney if your case involves accusations of parental alienation, as it is a serious and complex matter.

Foreign languages

Court business must be conducted in English.

The Washington State Court Interpreter Program has interpreters for American Sign Language, Arabic, Cantonese, French, Korean, Lao, Mandarin, Russian, Spanish and Vietnamese, among many other languages. To request an interpreter, contact your court.

If an interpreter for your language is not available locally, the court can request one from elsewhere. This may delay some court dates.

Be aware that friends and family cannot interpret for you in the courtroom, though they can help you outside of it.

Military duty

Courts will not issue a permanent order while one party is deployed for military duty. Instead, the parents can do one or more of these things:

If a parent deploys after the family has a permanent order, that parent can choose an adult relative to take their residential time. This requires court approval.

Deployed parents can communicate electronically with their children during their time away.

Addressing special situations in your parenting plan

Your parenting plan should be unique to your family and reflect your specific needs.

If a lawyer or mediator is writing your plan, it's important you share with them any circumstances the plan should address.

If you're writing your own plan, you have the flexibility to include what you want. But — the plan needs to follow a format the judge will understand and use airtight language that leaves no room for interpretation.

The Custody X Change parenting plan template walks you through common provisions, while letting you enter as many custom provisions as you want. It's a sure way to get a plan that's tailored to your family and meets court standards for formatting and language.

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