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Control Versus Contact: Considerations for Child Custody in Washington

It can be easy to argue during divorce that the opposing parent does not deserve custody, but research shows children benefit from contact with both parents.
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    October 06, 2012 /24-7PressRelease/ -- Deciding what child custody arrangement is best is probably one of the hardest decisions parents face when they go through divorce. If emotions between parents run high it can be easy to argue that the other parent doesn't deserve custody, but research on child custody arrangements suggests time with both parents is best for the children.

There are a range of things parents should consider when thinking about the custody arrangement for their children. But, parents should pay careful attention to one trade-off: control versus contact. Sole custody gives the custodial parent a lot of control while giving very little control to, and therefore sometimes little contact with, the non-custodial parent.

Sole custody gives the custodial parent the right to make all of the major decisions in a child's life, such as decisions about education, religion and medical care without input from the other parent. In order for a parent to acquire sole custody the parent that seeks it often argues that sole custody will protect the children from the other parent's negative influence. However, if the other parent is not a danger or negative influence on his or her children's lives, a court may snuff out that request. The court has the ability to award sole custody if one parent is a danger. A court may decide that sole custody is preferable when the parents' relationship is extremely combative, when drug or alcohol issues are present, or if one of the parents suffers from a mental disorder.

Generally the sole custodial parent has more time with the children, but because contact with both parents is so important those involved in child custody decisions are starting to favor joint custody. Research shows that children benefit from parenting time with both parents. Therefore a non-custodial parent may receive more parenting time within a parenting plan than the custodial parent originally expects.

Moreover, in Washington state, if the parents cannot agree on a parenting plan, the judge will make the custody decision based on the best interest of the child. To help the judge come to a decision, the parents are asked to complete a Declaration in Support of Parenting Plan. The document essentially asks parents about their parenting duties and functions over the prior 12 months. Within the Declaration a parent may include any reason why the judge should restrict the other parent's contact with the children. Therefore, although one parent may start from the sole-custody corner during the beginning of the child custody process, he or she may not attain that goal in the end because of the court process that makes the best interest of the child paramount.

However, parents can create their own parenting plan that fits their circumstances whether it's sole or joint custody as long as both parties agree. While sole custody comes with the greatest control, it also limits the benefits of maximum contact with both parents. Children are the product of both parents. Excluding a dangerous situation, sole custody has the potential to inhibit the child's contact with both or their parental halves.

If you are considering divorce and have questions about child custody, contact an experienced family law attorney to discuss your legal options.

Article provided by Law Offices of Magnuson Lowell P.S.
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