Last Updated: May 19, 2022. Report error / Make suggestion

The following is information extracted from the Washington State Appleseed Reentry Guide.

What does a court consider in deciding child custody and visitation cases?

Judges make decisions based on what is in the “best interests” of the child, considering the nature and stability of the child’s relationship with each parent; whether one parent has taken or can take on more parenting responsibility; agreements regarding custody; each parent’s ability to act as a parent; the needs and development of the child; and the child’s wishes.

How can my conviction record affect my custody and visitation?

Custody and visitation arrangements that allow a child to have a relationship with both parents are preferred, as long as that is in the child’s best interest. However, certain types of convictions, such as domestic violence, child abuse, abandonment and certain sexual offenses, are viewed as particularly relevant in evaluating your parenting ability and the child’s best interest.

What can I do to help my custody and visitation rights?

One of the most important things you can do is make sure you stay actively involved in your child’s life. You can be involved through letters, visits, telephone calls and other forms of contact. Keep a written log of all of your contacts so you have it as evidence. Also, attend (in person or by phone) all legal proceedings involving your child.

What is a parenting plan?

A parenting plan sets out the time the child will spend with each parent, which parent will make big decisions about the child and how parents will work out disagreements. If you and the other parent are divorced, you will have a parenting plan; if you weren’t married or are still married, you might not have one but can get one if you cannot agree on terms with the other parent. Once a judge signs the parenting plan, you must follow it or the judge may find you in contempt.

Information on filling out a parenting plan proposal.

Where can I find my parenting plan?

You can get a copy of your parenting plan from the court that entered it. If you do not know what court entered your parenting plan, you can find your court and case number online so that you can get a copy from the court.

What is a parenting plan modification?

To change a parenting plan, either parent can file a “parenting plan modification.” For a major change (such as to who has primary custody), the filing parent must prove a substantial change in circumstances for the child or the custodial parent. For a minor change (such as to visitation), the filing parent must prove a substantial change in circumstances for the child or either parent.

You have 20 days to respond to a parenting plan modification. If you do not respond, the court likely will give the other party the change it wants. To respond, use the form available online.

Can I get or regain custody of my child when I am released?

When you are released, your parenting plan will be in place with any modifications made during your incarceration. If it does not grant you custody or visitation, you can try to modify it.

If you and the other parent can agree on changes, you can submit the new version to the court for approval. If you cannot agree, you will need to file a petition for a parenting plan modification. Things like having stable employment and housing will help your chances of getting custody after you are released.

What is a non-parent custody petition?

A non-parent custody petition is a request by a non-parent to get custody of a child. If either parent objects, the person must prove that both parents are unfit or that living with either parent is a detriment to the child’s growth and development. If the court agrees that your child should live with the non-parent, it may be hard to get your child back after you are released.

What is a dependency action?

A dependency action is a case to decide if your child depends on the state for protection because he/she has been abandoned, abused or neglected or has nobody to care for him/her. More information on dependency actions.

Should I get an attorney to help with my child custody and visitation issues?

Yes, child custody issues are very complicated so you should try to find an attorney to help you.

Do I have a right to a free attorney?

You only have a right to a free public defender in dependency actions and cases involving termination of parental rights.

What if I cannot afford to hire a lawyer for other types of custody and visitation cases?

If you cannot afford to hire a lawyer, try calling local bar associations to see if they have any free legal clinics. Or you may be able to obtain low-cost legal help by calling 2-1-1 if you live in King County or 1-888-201-1014 if you live elsewhere in Washington State.


The information on this website is not legal advice. You should not and are not authorized to rely on this website as a source of legal advice. While Civil Survival goes to great lengths to make sure the information on the website is accurate, we cannot guarantee the accuracy of this information and are not responsible for any consequences that may result from the use of this website. We recommend that you consult with an attorney for assurance that the information on the website and your interpretation of it are appropriate for your situation.

More Family & Children Guides

Child Support FAQ

Understand what child support is, how it impacts you, and how to receive support.