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Parenting Plan--Who Speaks for the Child?

In contested family law cases with children, emotions can run high and allegations plentiful if child custody is an issue. When both parents are seeking primary residential placement, or "custody" of the children, there is often no shortage of harmful and hurtful allegations. Serving the best interests of the children becomes excruciatingly difficult for the Court to resolve when the parents are focused upon tearing each other down. As such, when parenting abilities are an issue, the Court will often use a neutral third party to investigate the children's circumstances, make parenting recommendations, and sometimes even advocate on behalf of the child. Although the Court has the power to interview the children directly, such occurrences are quite rare. Every county in Washington state follows their own procedures to assist the Court in determining the children's best interests in difficult contested parenting matters.

For example, for parenting plan issues arising in King County, there are a variety of tools for a Court Commissioner or Judge to use to look into the children's actual circumstances. The Court may appoint a Guardian ad Litem, private parenting evaluator, or even use lower cost options, such as Family Court Services or CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates). Any of these methods can provide the Court with very useful information regarding the children.

In Pierce County, the Court most often relies upon a Guardian ad Litem to be appointed from a court-approved registry. When a Court Commissioner or Judge enters an Order authorizing the use of a Guardian ad Litem, three names will be generated from the registry. Each parent will have the opportunity to strike one of the names, and the one name remaining will be appointed as the Guardian ad Litem.

The professional, whether it be a Guardian ad Litem, parenting evaluator, or other type of parenting investigator, will most often look at the Court filings, interview the parents, children and other relevant witnesses, as well as review other pertinent evidence to assist in generating a report and recommendations to serve the best interests of the children. While the Court is not bound to follow any such recommendations, oftentimes the input of such a professional is very helpful to the Court's determination of custody and parenting issues.

The statute below grants the Court its authority to interview the children and/or appoint a professional to look into the children's circumstances.

RCW 26.09.210

Parenting plans—Interview with child by court—Advice of professional personnel.

The court may interview the child in chambers to ascertain the child's wishes as to the child's residential schedule in a proceeding for dissolution of marriage or domestic partnership, legal separation, or declaration of invalidity. The court may permit counsel to be present at the interview. The court shall cause a record of the interview to be made and to be made part of the record in the case.

The court may seek the advice of professional personnel whether or not they are employed on a regular basis by the court. The advice given shall be in writing and shall be made available by the court to counsel upon request. Counsel may call for cross-examination any professional personnel consulted by the court.

Family law litigation, particularly contested child custody matters, can be emotionally difficult and complex. Decisions made about each step of the litigation can affect you for many years. We have decades of experience helping our clients through the difficulty of family law cases, including contested parenting cases and can help you through the process. Contact us today at (253) 838 – 3377 or email at, to talk about your case.

Disclaimer: All materials provided on this website have been prepared by Bains Law Firm for general information purposes only and no representation is made as to their completeness or accuracy. Information on this website is not intended as legal advice, and may not be relied upon as such. Only an attorney who can review the unique facts of each case and apply them to the statutes, case law and court rules can provide legal advice. Nothing in this website shall be construed to create an attorney-client relationship.

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