Changes in child custody law reflect the changes in American families that have taken place over the last several generations. Earlier eras assigned child care duties to the mother and tasked the father with supporting the family’s economic needs. While this traditional structure still prevails in some families, many homes today see both parents working outside the home and sharing child care responsibilities. There are also families today in which the father takes care of the children while the mother serves as the breadwinner.
While the structure of families has evolved greatly in modern times, child custody laws in some states have failed to keep pace. Some fathers trying to win custody of their children may be confronted with archaic statutes that preference maternal rights and leave fathers wondering if child custody laws are biased against them.
Washington Child Custody Laws Are Gender Neutral
Child custody statutes vary by state. While a handful of states retain an explicit preference for awarding primary custody to the mother, the state of Washington has adopted a gender-neutral standard. In Washington State, as well as many other states across the country, the prevailing factor in child custody cases is what outcome is in the best interest of the child. While there is no guarantee that a father won’t encounter a biased judge, the laws in Washington regarding child custody make no reference to gender. In fact, in Washington divorce cases, state statutes encourage parents and judges to agree to joint custody whenever possible.
In Washington State, joint custody may be awarded if the following minimum conditions are met: each parent is active in making decisions for the child, the proximity of the parents allows a joint custody arrangement to be feasible, and the parents are willing or able to work together to serve the child’s best interests.
If one parent is awarded sole custody, the non-custodial parent will usually be awarded visitation rights. Visitation rights are granted in almost all circumstances, except in cases of abuse or abandonment. Child support in Washington may be ordered of either parent, regardless of gender.
Custody Cases in Washington State Require a Parenting Plan
Washington law requires parents who are fighting a custody battle to submit, and eventually agree to, a parenting plan. Each parent may draw up their own plan and then negotiate a final agreement in front of a judge or mediator. Alternatively, both parents may agree on a joint parenting plan by themselves, and then present it to a judge for approval.
Parenting plans will differ for each family, and joint custody is often different from equal custody. Although Washington law does not preference maternal rights, it does allow that the best interest of the child may require a majority of his or her time to be spent with one parent. While gender is not a factor is assigning these responsibilities, the courts will take into account each parent’s financial status, work schedule, proximity to the child, the existing relationship between the child and each parent, and the parents themselves.
Fathers Often do not Fight for Child Custody
Statistics demonstrate that nationwide, mothers are granted sole custody more often than fathers. These statistics do not necessarily represent a legal bias against fathers; the fact is that many fathers do not ask for sole or joint custody, but cede these rights without contest. In Washington State, there is no legal reason why a father seeking to protect the best interests of his children should not get a fair hearing.
About the author
Kevin Danielson is a freelance writer who concentrates on a variety of legal topics such as Personal Injury, Brain Injuries, Family Law, Intellectual Property and others as well.