How to File for Full Custody in Washington State

How to File for Full Custody in Washington State

Child custody cases can be emotionally challenging and legally complex. However, if you believe that full custody is in the best interest of your child, you have the right to pursue it. This article will guide you through the process of filing for full custody in Washington State, including the necessary steps, requirements, and frequently asked questions.

Step 1: Understand Full Custody

Full custody, also known as sole custody, refers to a situation where one parent has legal and physical custody of the child, and the other parent has limited or no visitation rights. To obtain full custody, you need to demonstrate to the court that it is in the child’s best interest to be primarily in your care.

Step 2: Gather Evidence

To support your case for full custody, it is crucial to gather evidence that proves your ability to provide a stable and nurturing environment for your child. This evidence may include:

1. Documentation of any history of abuse, neglect, or domestic violence involving the other parent.
2. Records of your involvement in your child’s life, such as school or medical records, photographs, or testimonies from teachers, doctors, or other professionals.
3. Evidence of the other parent’s inability to provide a safe and stable living environment, such as substance abuse issues or criminal records.

Step 3: File the Petition

To initiate the process, you must file a petition for custody with the appropriate family court. The petition should include:

1. Your name, contact information, and relationship to the child.
2. The other parent’s name and contact information.
3. A detailed explanation of why you are seeking full custody, supported by the evidence you have gathered.
4. Proposed parenting plan, including a schedule for visitation or any limitations on the other parent’s rights.
5. Any additional requests, such as child support or counseling.

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Step 4: Serve the Other Parent

Once you have filed the petition, you must serve the other parent with a copy of the petition and a summons. This can be done by a process server or certified mail. After being served, the other parent will have a specified period to respond to the petition.

Step 5: Attend Mediation or Custody Evaluation

In Washington State, parents are required to attend mediation or a custody evaluation to resolve custody disputes before proceeding to trial. During these sessions, a neutral third party will help facilitate discussions and potentially reach an agreement. If an agreement cannot be reached, the case will proceed to trial.

Step 6: Prepare for Trial

If mediation or a custody evaluation fails to resolve the dispute, the court will schedule a trial. It is essential to prepare a strong case by organizing your evidence, identifying witnesses, and consulting with an experienced family law attorney who can guide you through the trial process.


Q: Can I file for full custody if the other parent has visitation rights?
A: Yes, you can file for full custody even if the other parent has visitation rights. You must demonstrate to the court that it is in the child’s best interest to have limited or no contact with the other parent.

Q: How long does the full custody process take?
A: The timeline can vary depending on various factors such as court availability, complexity of the case, and willingness to cooperate. On average, it can take several months to a year to complete the full custody process.

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Q: Will I have to pay child support if I am granted full custody?
A: It is possible. The court will consider factors such as each parent’s income, financial resources, and the child’s needs when determining child support obligations.

Q: Can grandparents file for full custody in Washington State?
A: Yes, grandparents can file for full custody in certain circumstances. They must demonstrate that it is in the child’s best interest and that the child’s parents are unfit or unwilling to provide suitable care.

Q: Can I modify a custody order if circumstances change?
A: Yes, custody orders can be modified if there has been a substantial change in circumstances that affects the child’s welfare. Examples include relocation, change in employment, or evidence of abuse or neglect.

In conclusion, filing for full custody in Washington State requires careful preparation, gathering evidence, and understanding the legal process. By following the steps outlined in this article and seeking professional guidance, you can navigate the system and present a compelling case for the best interest of your child. Remember, it is always advisable to consult with an experienced family law attorney to ensure you fully understand your rights and obligations throughout the process.