In a Washington divorce, custody and visitation arrangements are incorporated into a parenting plan, defining how each parent will be involved in the child’s rearing and where the child primarily will live. When the spouses are unable to agree on key aspects of a parenting plan, it may fall upon the court to intervene and make decisions based on the child’s best interests. This can sometimes include giving weight to the child’s wish to reside with one parent or the other.
The child’s preference is one of many factors a court may consider in determining the best interests of a child. Other factors are:
- The child’s relationship with both parents
- The child’s physical, developmental, and educational needs
- The physical and mental health of each parent
- The ability of each parent to provide sufficient food, clothing, medical, and security
- The ability of each parent to meet the child’s current and future developmental needs
- Evidence of domestic abuse
- Dependency on drugs or alcohol by either parent
- The parents’ preferences regarding custody
A judge will assess the child’s level of maturity in deciding how much weight to apply to their preference as part of a parenting plan. The child must be found to be of sufficient age and capacity to form and communicate a well-reasoned, intelligent preference. Although the age of reaching this capacity varies, most courts will assign more importance to the wishes of a child over the age of 12. Also, children over the age of 12 may be less susceptible to coercion from either parent or may base a preference on superficial reasons.
Ultimately, even if a child is able to form and communicate a well-reasoned and intelligent custody preference, the judge may find their preference does not align with their best interests. For instance, if the parent that the child prefers is deemed to be an unfit guardian, the courts may make a decision based on other factors.
If you are contemplating a divorce, the legal team at Bottimore & Associates, P.L.L.C. in Tacoma can help you work out a custody and visitation arrangement that best serves your child while protecting your rights. Our compassionate family law attorneys have experience resolving parenting issues for families across Washington. Call 253-272-5653 or contact us online to schedule a consultation.