The emphasis in the State of Washington is “primary placement”. In placing a child with one parent or sometimes equally with both parents the court looks at many factors. If there are issues relating to domestic violence, substance abuse, lack of acting like a parent or other factors, there might be conditions on placement. As noted in the section about parenting plans, Washington State provides for events, holidays, relocation, and issues that may arise in bringing up children. The important thing to remember about placement is that children are often times in the middle of the litigation whether it is a divorce or other action. Sometimes outsiders, like counselors or school personnel, are asked to give input. Most courts in the U.S. use the “best interests” standard when placing a child with a parent(s). That is a subjective standard based on information provided by the parents, lawyers and outsiders. The age of the child/children is another consideration because children have different needs when applying the best-interests criteria. There is no preference for either parent whether mom or dad. Although the courts may consider a teenager’s preference, there is nothing set in stone that says that children get to control the decision on placement.
To change placement there must be a change in circumstances. Sometimes a parent has to relocate for a job, the child has different needs that are better addressed with a new parenting plan, or one parent is unable to care for the child. Usually the parenting plan will provide for mediation first before going to court to address these issues.