child-custody

Child Custody/Paternity

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Child Custody/Paternity Lawyers in Everett, WA (Snohomish County)

At Berner Law Group, PLLC, we treat each divorce with children/custody/paternity case as the high-priority matter it is. Few firms can match our commitment to this area of the law.

In any case involving children, the Court will order a parenting plan/residential schedule and has broad discretion in determining what will be in the best interests of the child(ren), after considering many objectives/factors set forth in the state statute (RCW 26.09.187), including but not limited to:

  1. The relative strength, nature and stability of the child’s relationship with each parent;
  2. The agreements of the parties, provided they were entered into knowingly and voluntarily;
  3. Each parent’s past and potential for future performance of parenting functions as defined in RCW 26.09.004 (3), including whether a parent has taken the greater responsibility for performing parenting functions relating to the daily needs of the child;
  4. The emotional needs and developmental level of the child;
  5. The child’s relationship with siblings and with other significant adults, as well as the child’s involvement with his or her physical surroundings, school, or other significant activities;
  6. The wishes of the parents and the wishes of the child who is sufficiently mature to express reasoned and independent preferences as to his or her residential schedule; and
  7. Each parent’s employment schedule, and shall make accommodations consistent with those schedules.

While the Court can consider the wishes of a child “who is sufficiently mature,” the Court is certainly not required to follow a child’s wishes in that regard; in Washington, there is no age upon which a child has the authority to determine with whom he/she resides or how often they see the other parent (this is a common misconception/myth).

In cases where issues regarding the parenting plan are disputed, the Court may appoint a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) or parenting evaluator to investigate the issues raised by the parties and make recommendations to the Court regarding the final parenting plan. Each party is expected to contribute to the cost of a GAL/parenting evaluator, with the cost often divided based on the parties’ respective incomes.

When it comes to the issue of relocation by the primary/majority residential parent in custody cases, there are special statutes and procedural requirements that apply. Per RCW 26.09.430, a person “with whom a child resides a majority of the time” must provide notice to all other entitled to residential time with the child if he/she intends to relocate outside of the current school district at least 60 days prior to the intended relocation date. If a person entitled to residential time objects timely (within 30 days of receiving the Notice of Intended Relocation), the person seeking to relocate with the child may not do so without a Court Order. If no objection is filed, the parent seeking to relocate may relocate without further notice. The parent “with whom the child resides a majority of the time” benefits from a rebuttable presumption that the relocation will be allowed; however, that presumption may be rebutted by a showing that the detrimental effect of the relocation will outweigh its benefits to the child and the relocating person.

When considering a request to relocate, the Court evaluates the following factors per RCW 26.09.520:

  1. The relative strength, nature, quality, extent of involvement, and stability of the child’s relationship with each parent, siblings, and other significant persons in the child’s life;
  2. Prior agreements of the parties;
  3. Whether disrupting the contact between the child and the person with whom the child resides a majority of the time would be more detrimental to the child than disrupting contact between the child and the person objecting to the relocation;
  4. Whether either parent or a person entitled to residential time with the child is subject to limitations under RCW 26.09.191;
  5. The reasons of each person for seeking or opposing the relocation and the good faith of each of the parties in requesting or opposing the relocation;
  6. The age, developmental stage, and needs of the child, and the likely impact the relocation or its prevention will have on the child’s physical, educational, and emotional development, taking into consideration any special needs of the child;
  7. The quality of life, resources, and opportunities available to the child and to the relocating party in the current and proposed geographic locations;
  8. The availability of alternative arrangements to foster and continue the child’s relationship with and access to the other parent;
  9. The alternatives to relocation and whether it is feasible and desirable for the other party to relocate also;
  10. The financial impact and logistics of the relocation or its prevention; and
  11. For a temporary order, the amount of time before a final decision can be made at trial.

In many cases involving parenting plan disputes, modifications (discussed separately under “Modification Actions” section) or relocations, the first hearing at Court can be one of the most important in the case, especially if an immediate change is being requested. Seasoned legal advice and representation from the start of the case can set a case on the right path—the path to success/victory.

Paternity cases are necessary when unmarried parents wish to establish the paternity (i.e., the legal identity of the biological father) of their child. These cases are sometimes also referred to as parentage cases. It’s necessary to establish paternity before a parent has legally enforceable rights to visitation or child support.

The Uniform Parentage Act identifies the ways that paternity may be established. For example, a man is presumed the father of a child who was born within 300 days of the man’s divorce from the mother. For a full list of these presumptions, see RCW 26.26.116. Such a presumption can be overcome, but only with convincing evidence, such as a DNA test, presented at the earliest opportunity. Failure to challenge the presumption of paternity within the child’s first few years of life can render the presumption non-rebuttable.

When no presumption applies, a man is not deemed the legal parent of a child absent proof. Again, this proof often comes in the form of a DNA test. Upon proper request, a Court must order an alleged father to submit to DNA testing unless that alleged father successful proves he did not engage in sexual intercourse with the mother.

Legal paternity can also arise under the following conditions:

  1. A woman giving birth to a child;
  2. Adoption;
  3. Surrogate gestation or parentage;
  4. An acknowledgment of paternity, which is a legal form, often signed at birth. A father can rescind his acknowledgment of paternity, but only within a finite period of time.
  5. Consent to a spouse or domestic partner undergoing assisted reproduction.

Either parent can initiate a paternity case. If a mother and child are receiving state benefits, then the State of Washington can commence a paternity case. Once paternity has been established, the Court will sign an order establishing paternity. In the process, it can change the child’s birth certificate to reflect both biological parents, and provide for child support and a residential schedule if that is pursued by one or both parents.

Contact Berner Law Group, PLLC to speak with a custody lawyer/attorney in Snohomish County today! We’re conveniently located directly across the street from the Snohomish County Superior Court in downtown Everett.