A decision to file for divorce often leads to a variety of major lifestyle changes. People may need to move to new homes, rework their budgets and give up some of their property. Washington divorces also affect interpersonal relationships, including the relationships that married parents have with their children.
The idea of sharing time with one’s minor children is an unpleasant one for many parents, as they will only get to spend a certain percentage of time with them. They may have to miss special events like holidays and birthdays, depending on how they share that time with their child’s other parent. Some people may worry that their spouse may try to interfere in their relationship with their children. Others may worry that their children prefer their other parent. Will a child’s preferences determine what happens during custody litigation in a Washington divorce?
A child’s preferences are only one consideration
Divorcing parents with minor children always have the option of working out their own custody arrangements. However, many families are unable to settle those matters on their own and may need to go to court. During custody litigation, a Washington family law judge has to learn about a family’s circumstances. They look at the age of the children, the health of the parents, the existing family relationships and the living circumstances of both adults. They can then appropriately divide both parenting time and decision-making power between the adults and the family.
A judge can also consider the preferences of the children, but the children don’t get to set the terms for themselves. Instead, the judge will determine how much weight to give their stated wishes based on their maturity and the reasoning behind their requests. In most cases, judges will order young adults to continue seeing both parents until they turn 18 unless there are unusual extenuating circumstances that would make shared parenting arrangements harmful to the children.
Even parents who have recently experienced a rocky point in their relationship with their children can generally count on being granted some parenting time. Alternatively, those parents who can settle outside of court may be able to avoid a scenario in which their children feel pressured to make a choice between their parents.
Ultimately, seeking legal guidance and learning more about how Washington handles contested and uncontested custody matters may help people set more realistic expectations and better manage their divorce proceedings accordingly.