Understand custody and parenting laws before heading to court

When a parent in Washington or elsewhere in the United States decides to divorce, it is logical to assume that the process will include certain legal issues that must be resolved before the court will issue a final decree. These issues often pertain to custody and parenting. No two divorces are exactly the same; in fact, parents can often customize an agreement to fit their particular needs and goals, and to protect their children's best interests.

Whether a divorce is mediated, arbitrated or litigated, a parent will want to seek clarification of the different types of custody. Doing so will help determine which type of agreement would be the most viable option in a particular family situation. For instance, if a co-parent has a drug problem or is abusive, then it it would likely warrant filing a petition for sole custody.

Sole custody typically means that only one parent has physical and legal custody of the children in question. A parent seeking this type of arrangement may have to convince the court that the other parent is unfit. Physical custody, of course, refers to where children reside after divorce. Legal custody, on the other hand, has to do with the authority to make decisions that affect a child's life, such as those having to do with health care, education or religion. Even if one parent has sole custody, the other parent could be granted visitation rights when appropriate.

When neither parent is a detriment to children's well-being, custody and parenting orders often include joint (or shared) custody. In such cases, the kids live with each parent on a part-time basis. How often custody exchanges take place, where kids are picked up or dropped off and other details can be worked out on a case-by-case basis, but once a court order is in place, both parents must fully adhere to the terms. If a Washington parent is unsure which type of custody would be best in an impending divorce, a meeting with an experienced family law attorney is the best place to start.

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