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When a separation occurs, does the mother of the children automatically get custody?
Most state courts do not automatically give preference to the mother or the father of the child(ren).  The courts look very closely at which one of the parents would promote the best welfare and interests of the child(ren).

When granting custody, what factors are considered by the court?
Some of the factors considered are: who has been taking care of the child, primarily, during the marriage; who has the best disciplinary approach; if the couple has already been separated, who has taken care of the child since then; the work schedules of either or both of the parents; and how each of the parents can provide best for the physical, emotional, educational, religious, and social needs of the child(ren).

Can a Legal Assistance Attorney help me get a court decree for custody of my child(ren)?
No.  You can file legal documents or represent yourself in court, or you can attain a civilian attorney.  Our attorneys can review court documents and explain them, but we cannot represent anyone in a civilian court.

Can a court award any attorney fees to me in a custody case?
It is not mandatory, but the court may award reasonable attorney fees as part of the custody order.  For example, if your ex-spouse takes you to court they can request that you pay attorney fees, and the court can order you to pay them (the reverse is true as well). Courts look unfavorably on those being unreasonable or who waste the court's time, so it is often wise to hire an attorney to help you navigate the system and find resolution.  If a party is forced into going to court unnecessarily and unreasonably (to enforce a standing agreement for example), the court can sanction them to pay the aggrieved party's attorney fees.

Do I have to file for custody in the state of Washington?
No, you do not.  A custody suit is typically filed where the child is residing, however, someone could file an action involving the custody of a minor in the "home state" of the child(ren) or in any state where the child(ren) and one or both parents have significant contacts or connections.

Can a custody order by changed?
A custody order is never permanent, but the judge can only change a custody order if there is a substantial change of circumstances affecting the best interest and welfare of the child(ren).

Will my separation agreement protect me from the other parent taking my child(ren)?
No, a separation agreement is nothing more than a contract between you and the other parent, not a court order.  If, however, your separation agreement has been incorporated into a court decree, then it is considered a court order and can be enforced by contempt of court.

If my spouse is granted custody, will I get visitation rights?
Ordinarily, yes.  There are some exceptions in extraordinary situations, however, such as child abuse.

Can I register a court order from another state so it can be treated as one of its own decrees for purposes of enforcement?
Yes, you can file and register another state's decree with the Clerk of Superior Court in any county courthouse.

If the other parent does not like the present custody order, can he/she file in another state?
Usually not.  Under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act and the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act, when a judge finds that another court has made an award of custody, the judge should refuse to rule on the case unless there is an immediate and clear emergency affecting the child(rens) welfare or well-being.  It is not until the first court has released or transferred jurisdiction to the new state that the new court may assume jurisdiction to hear the custody case.

Will custody be settles when I obtain divorce?
Not necessarily.  A custody order can be entered before or after a final decree of divorce.

What is "joint custody?"
There are two types of "joint custody."   Joint legal custody, the first type, means that the parents will share the responsibility of making major decisions that affect the child(ren).  It does not mean that the parents will share in making day-to-day decisions.  The second type, joint physical custody or "shared custody," means that both parents will have an equal or nearly equal amount of time with the child(ren).  In this case, one parent's home is designated as the child(ren)'s "primary residence" for school purposes and medical records.

What are the effects of joint legal custody?
This is reserved for parents with a mature relationship.  It requires both parents to be able and willing to discuss the child's needs more frequently than a sole custody arrangement.  They will need to be cooperative and must easily reach agreements in which the child is concerned.  It may not be an easy task to accomplish.  In an ideal world, a shared custody arrangement means that each one of the parents will be able to maintain a "real home" for the child(ren).  It can allow each parent to spend some quality time with the child(ren) and ultimately develop a better relationship.  The child(ren), however, may feel shuttled back and forth, resulting in them not really feeling like they have a "home."  Children who find adapting to change difficult may find this lifestyle too chaotic.  The parents involved in this agreement must be committed to being co-parents and have free and frequent communication with each other.

What effect does joint custody have on child support?
Joint physical custody, or shared custody, by definition, is when a parent's visiting with the child results in 123 or more overnight stays per year.  It will result in a different amount of child support than that of a sole custody arrangement.  The stays will be calculated, and the parent will receive a "credit".  Joint legal custody, however, has no effect on child support.

Can the court grant me joint legal custody?
After you decide if you would prefer to have joint legal custody or joint physical custody, you will have to ask the court to award it.  There are some things that you need to propose to the court in order for them to grant joint custody.  You must have a workable schedule, be able to show that you have the time, room, and ability to care for the child(ren), and that the arrangement will be less disruptive to the child(ren).  Also, you must be able to show the judge that you have always been, and continue to be, substantially involved in the child's upbringing and have aided in making decisions for the child(ren).  Both parents must demonstrate that they communicate well and are cooperative with one another, and all of the evidence that you provide should show that the joint custody arrangement is in the child(ren)'s best interest.

How can I prevent my ex from obtaining joint custody?
In order to prevent an ex from obtaining joint custody, you must be able to disprove the conditions listed above.  You want to convince the judge that a joint custody arrangement would not be in the best interest of the child(ren).  The court needs to know that you and your ex are not good candidates for a joint custody arrangement and that you can rarely agree on issues concerning the child(ren), and that the child has been incorporated into your disagreements and arguments.  Furthermore, you want to show the environment you can provide is in the best interest of your child(ren).

Is joint legal custody the right thing for myself/my child?
So many factors should be considered when making decisions about custody.  It depends entirely on the relationship between both parents and the child(ren), and that should be the determining factor.  Some things to consider are the age of the child(ren), temperament, coping style, quality and nature of the parents' relationships, the maturity of the parents, and the cooperation and commitment of the parents.  Make sure that you can be good "co-parents," and consider the best interest of your child(ren).

I have some other questions concerning my divorce, what should I do?
Contact a legal assistance attorney at the legal office or a private attorney.  They can help answer your questions and help you make intelligent and informed decisions. 

What happens with shared custody when I have to PCS and my ex is not moving, or vice-versa?
The court will not prevent you from moving, but they can and will modify the order based on your move.  This means that you are running the risk of one of the parents getting primary custody of the child(ren).  The determining factor in the matter is what is best for the child(ren).  If both of the parents are unable to reach some type of agreement, you will need to hire an attorney to aid in the matter.  Be sure to notify the court ASAP, via written statement, when you know a move is imminent.