As written, the laws are gender-neutral, but the common perception is that they favor mothers in custody cases. So what are a father’s odds of getting primary custody in Washington?
Taken at face value, the law doesn’t favor mothers over fathers when it comes to deciding who gets the kids. But even though both parents have equal legal footing, primary custody doesn’t always play out like that in the real world.
The most recent report from the Washington State Center for Court Research offers interesting statistics that shed light on this matter.
The report looked at 3661 Residential Time Summary Reports filed between January 1, 2016, and December 31, 2016, in Washington State. Their data found:
“In nearly two-thirds of families (65.4%), children were scheduled to spend more time with their mother than their father.”
In fact, only 19.5% of all cases did parenting plans feature a 50/50 split. That number is up slightly from 18% in 2010.
Related Reading: Do I Need a Custody Lawyer?
Risk Factors and Primary Custody
The study also examined risk factors and their influence and their impact on primary custody. This includes domestic violence, child abuse, and chemical dependence.
Risk factors played a part in roughly 14% (14.1%) of families—10.8% of fathers compared to 3.3% of mothers.
In both instances, chemical dependency was the most commonly cited—at 3% in mothers and 5% in fathers.
The study found that the number and type of these risk factors affected parenting plans and residential time. According to the report:
“As in past years, when one parent had risk factors and the other did not, the vast majority of residential schedules involved children spending most or all of their residential time with the parent with no risk factors.”
The more risk factors one parent had, the less likely they would receive primary custody.
- In 46.6% of cases, the courts granted a mother with no risk factors full custody when the father had one.
- This jumped to 58.1% of cases when a father had two risk factors, and 68.2% when he had three.
- On the other side, fathers won full custody in 35.3% of cases when the mother had a risk factor.
- Again, this bumped up to 63.3% and 61.1% for a second and third risk factor respectively.
Statistically speaking, fathers were slightly more likely to lose residential time with their children due to risk factors than mothers.
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How Are Parenting Arrangements Decided?
In general, we think of child custody as a decision handed down by the courts. However, that’s not always how it plays out. In fact, that’s not even usually the case. So, how do we wind up with these parenting arrangements?
In the vast majority of cases cited in the study (86.9%), the parents came to an agreement on their own, without court intervention.
Of these mutually agreed upon plans, in 61.3% of cases, mothers received the majority of parenting time. In just over one-quarter (25.3%) of these cases, did mothers and fathers receive equal parenting time.
Overall, only 2.4% of cases went to trial or involved contested hearings. Though they ultimately have to be signed off on, parents most often reach these agreements through mediation and similar processes of negotiation.
In these instances, 74.4% of the time, mothers received majority custody. In less than 10% of cases (9.3%), mothers and fathers received equal time with their children.
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How to Improve Your Chances
While it may appear that you face an uphill custody battle as a father, there are ways to improve your chances and strengthen your case.
Spend as much time as you can with your kids. It demonstrates your commitment to being, and remaining, an involved parent and a continuing part of their lives.
Courts don’t like to drastically change a child’s routine. So if you’re already a big part of that, that’s more likely to continue.
It’s also important to play nice and not interfere with your ex’s time with the kids. You and your ex have to make decisions about your child’s life and well-being. It’s key to prove you can behave like an adult.
Related Reading: 12 Do’s and Don’ts to Protect Visitation
Hiring a Custody Attorney
One big thing you can do to help your case is to hire a child custody attorney. According to the report:
“Results indicate that when either side had a lawyer, they were likely to get more residential time than when both parties were self-represented.”
In short, if one side had a lawyer and the other did not, the parent with representation usually came out ahead.
When fathers had a lawyer and mothers did not both have attorneys, fathers received majority custody 25.6% of the time.
Beyond that, they received equal time in 35% of cases.
So in almost 61% of these cases, fathers wound up with at least a 50/50 split, if not more.
That’s a pretty compelling argument for hiring a child custody lawyer. It can definitely help increase your odds of getting primary custody.
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From The Radio
Rick Jones, one of our founding partners, makes regular guest appearances on the Danny Bonaduce and Sarah Morning Show. On the air, he answers family law questions from listeners. Since the occur so frequently, topics like primary custody come up often.
CALLER: “I’ve been a stay-at-home dad for the last two years, and my wife filed for divorce recently. I don’t know if I have a shot of being able to have majority custody of my daughter or if Washington favors the mom, or what. How does this work?”
Rick: “The key really is who between the two of you has already been in the role of primary parent. And the pivotal period is actually the last two years–the last six months being more important than before that–but the last two years is extremely important.
“The real key is this though: Don’t go in with what I’m hearing feels a little bit of a defeatist attitude. Get someone on your side that can put the story together and tell it in a compelling and truthful way. It sounds like he’s got a really good case.”
Danny: “Not that you need me to tell you this, but I’ve hired lawyers in my day, and never had they said, ‘You have a defeatist attitude, step up, tell your story well.’ I thought that was great. From what I’m getting there Bob, there’s a good chance of this, but you need an attorney to tell your story.”
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