Can You Lose Custody for Not Co-Parenting in Seattle, Washington?

Posted on March 21, 2024.

It is very rare for a parent to lose custody of a child. In general, the courts favor situations where the children share a relationship with both parents and where both parents play an active role in raising a child. If you’re wondering if you can lose custody for not co-parenting in Seattle, Washington, it is important to first distinguish between the different ways a parent can fail to co-parent because the remedies, or solutions to each situation, will differ depending on the situation.

What are some situations where a parent may fail at co-parenting?

  • The parent does not want to have a relationship with his or her child, but pays child support.
  • The parent does not want to have a relationship with his or her child and refuses to pay child support.
  • The parent follows the parenting plan set forth in the divorce or separation agreement, but refuses to pay child support.
  • The parent doesn’t honor the visitation schedule set forth in the parenting plan. The parent is late, cancels visitations, or fails to return the child to the other parent on time.
  • One parent fails to communicate with the other parent or fails to involve the other parent in important shared custody decisions (like decisions involving a child’s medical care, education, religion, or after-school activities).
  • One parent moves to another state or moves the child to another school district in Washington state without informing the other parent or the court.
  • One parent introduces a new romantic partner to the child too soon and the new romantic partner starts making parenting decisions.
  • One parent neglects the child when the child is in custody.

While loss of custody is rare in Washington state, some of these violations indeed could result in loss of custody. Other violations could result in one parent being found in contempt of court. If a parent is found to be in contempt of court, the parent could be forced to pay fines, pay the other party’s legal fees, be required to make up lost visitation time or co-parenting time, or may even face incarceration.

While each situation is unique, these scenarios represent different types of violations. Some situations represent violations of the parenting plan, for which there may be legal remedies. Other situations represent violations of child support orders. Finally, some situations involve no specific violations, but could result in the loss of custody, if the parent agrees to give up custody. We’ll explore these three situations in depth below:

  • When a Parent Doesn’t Want to Co-Parent Because He or She Doesn’t Want to Have a Relationship with the Child
  • When a Co-Parent Refuses to Pay Child Support
  • When a Co-Parent Violates the Parenting Plan
  • When a Co-Parent Neglects the Child

When a Parent Doesn’t Want to Co-Parent Because He or She Doesn’t Want to Have a Relationship with the Child

Nothing can be quite as disheartening as having a partner, or former partner who doesn’t want to see your child, be a parent to your child, or have a relationship with your child. Even in the most contentious divorce cases, where both parents can’t get along, most couples agree that it is in the best interests of the child to have a relationship with both parents. It can be incredibly traumatic for a child to be rejected by his or her parent, and it is understandable if you want to find a way to encourage your former partner to build a relationship with his or her child. Understanding the underlying reasons why a parent wouldn’t want to have a relationship with his or her child can help you understand the legal remedies you might have available.

A parent may not want to have a relationship with a child if the paternity is in question. Another situation where a parent may not want to have a relationship with the child is a situation where the parent either suffers from addiction, mental illness, or another illness that makes it impossible for him or her to parent the child. Finally, sometimes parents may refuse to co-parent because they believe that by relinquishing parental rights, they won’t have to pay child support.

If there are questions about whether the father is the legal parent, there are legal steps the father or mother can take to establish paternity. In many cases, both parents agree that they are the parents of the child and sign Acknowledgement of Parentage forms in the hospital when the baby is born. If the father refuses to sign the Acknowledgement of Parentage form, the mother can open a parentage case through the Division of Child Support. According to the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, if DCS takes your case, they will send it to the county prosecuting attorney. In this situation, the alleged father would be served legal papers, and both the mother, father, and child would need to undergo genetic testing to establish paternity. According to the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, “The county prosecutor acts on behalf of your child and cannot represent you in court or give you legal advice.” If you find yourself needing to take legal action to get a parent to co-parent or to establish paternity, you may want to speak to a family law attorney. Truce Law is a family lawyer in Seattle, Washington that may be able to assist you.

There may be situations where a parent may refuse to parent the child because he or she doesn’t want to pay child support. While some states allow parents to relinquish their rights and lose their obligation to pay child support, this is not the case in Washington state. Merely relinquishing your parental rights doesn’t absolve you from having to pay child support. The only exception to this case would be a situation where a biological parent relinquishes parental rights, and another person adopts the child. This person could be the mother or father’s new spouse or a family member. Basically, for a parent to avoid paying child support, an adoption must follow the relinquishing of parental rights.

Termination of parental rights is different from losing child custody. With child custody, one parent may live with the child, but the other parent still has the right to make major decisions regarding the child’s wellbeing and care. The other parent also will have visitation rights. Because the termination of parental rights is a grave decision that involves giving up the right to not only visit your child, but also involves giving up the right to make decisions for your child now and in the future, the courts take termination of parental rights very seriously. According to the Washington State Department of Children, Youth, & Families, “the judge will review whether the consent was genuinely voluntary and whether the termination of parental rights is in the best interests of the child.”

A parent can end up losing custody and visitation if he or she refuses to co-parent. If, for example the parent doesn’t show up for scheduled visitations, the custodial parent could petition the court for sole physical and legal custody. The co-parent would still have the obligation to pay child support. If a parent pays child support but doesn’t want to be involved in his or her child’s life, there is little you can do legally to force a parent to be involved.

If a parent is unable to co-parent due to other issues (like drug addiction, abuse, mental illness, or other serious limitations) and you are concerned for your child’s safety and wellbeing, you may be able to petition the court for sole custody. If this is a path you want to pursue to protect your child, you may want to speak to a Seattle, Washington family law attorney today.

When a Parent Refuses to Pay Child Support

If a co-parent refuses to co-parent by refusing to pay child support, you may have remedies available under the law. A parent cannot withhold child support for any reason. Even if your ex doesn’t let you see your child, you must still pay child support.

Washington State DCS (Division of Child Support) has many tools at its disposal to collect child support from a parent who refuses to pay. DCS can garnish wages (collect wages from the co-parent before they are paid). DCS can also file liens, suspend the co-parent’s professional license, find your co-parent in contempt of court, file a criminal case, or send a National Medical Support Notice to an employer requiring a person’s workplace health insurance to insure the child under the parent’s health insurance plan.

There are several steps you can take if a former spouse won’t pay child support.

  1. Contact the Department of Social and Health Services Division of Child Support. For $25 a year, DCS will handle the collection of child support, keep track of how much support is owed, and even take collection actions if your co-parent refuses to pay. If you don’t have a lot of resources and don’t intend to hire a family lawyer, contacting DCS will likely be your first step.
  2. File a Motion for Contempt. If significant money is owed to you for child support, and if you plan to hire a family law attorney in Washington state, another way you can collect unpaid child support is through filing a motion for contempt. While this process can be more costly, it can be important if the co-parent is paying less than what you feel is owed, if you feel he or she is hiding assets, or if he or she has refused to pay child support for a long period of time. In situations where the amount of child support owed isn’t clear, hiring a lawyer to fight for your rights may be beneficial.

Under the law, both parents are required to support their children. Refusing to co-parent by not paying child support is against the law, can result in collection actions being taken, and can even result in criminal prosecution.

When a Co-Parent Violates the Parenting Plan

There are several situations where a co-parent could violate a parenting plan and potentially end up losing custody or end up in contempt of court. If the parent fails to honor the visitations schedule set forth in the parenting plan (being late, canceling visitations, or failing to return the child on time), the other parent can find the co-parent in contempt of court or petition the court for a change of the parenting plan.

Failing to return a child when one parent has custody, and the other parent has visitation can potentially have serious consequences. For example, if your co-parent doesn’t return your child at all, you can file a custodial interference report, and speak to a police officer who handles child abductions to handle the case.

If a co-parent doesn’t show up to visitations or is frequently late, this could potentially disrupt your child’s daily or weekly routine. If you can show the court that this unreliability is not in your child’s best interest, the court may approve a modification of the parenting plan. A co-parent would probably not lose legal custody in this case but could potentially lose certain formal visitation rights if he or she frequently misses these scheduled visitations.

Moving or relocating a child without letting the court know or without modifying the parenting plan can be seen as a violation of the custody agreement. If you want to learn more about the potential implications of moving or relocating a child, read Truce Law’s article about moving after divorce here.

Introducing a new romantic partner in violation of a custody agreement can also be seen as a violation of the parenting plan. You may be able to petition the court for a modification of the parenting plan. Again, your co-parent won’t likely lose legal custody, but visitation, and ground rules regarding mutual decision-making may be emphasized or changed. For example, if a co-parent’s new partner starts making medical decisions for your child without your consent, the parenting plan might be changed to allow only you to make medical decisions.

Co-parenting requires communication, and if one parent starts unilaterally making decisions, this can create co-parenting issues and be seen as a refusal to co-parent. A parent who does this could be found in contempt of court. The parent struggling to communicate could also petition the court for a modification to the parenting plan.

A family law attorney at Truce Law in Seattle, Washington can help you take the next steps if your co-parent frequently violates the parenting plan. These are serious matters, and you may have remedies if you were to take your case to court.

When a Co-Parent Neglects the Child

Child neglect is different than a failure to co-parent. Failing to co-parent can involve any of the situations defined above (a co-parent fails to pay child support, a co-parent wants to relinquish custody, a co-parent violates the parenting plan). Neglect and child abuse is defined by the Washington State Department of Children and Families as any kind of sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, or negligent treatment of a child which leads harms the child’s “health, welfare, and safety.”

A co-parent suspected of neglecting a child could lose custody of the child or even have his or her parental rights terminated. While sole legal and physical custody arrangements in Washington state are the rarity rather than the norm, a situation where child neglect may be involved is one such case where a co-parent might lose custody.

Child abuse and neglect is very serious. If you fear for the health, welfare, or safety of your child when your child is visiting with your co-parent, it is important to contact authorities, and consider reaching out to a family lawyer in Seattle, Washington.

Next Steps

Dealing with a co-parent who refuses to be a parent, who fails to show up, or who refuses to pay child support can be incredibly difficult. Fortunately, the law provides legal remedies in most situations where a co-parent fails to co-parent. Failing to co-parent could result in modifications to the parenting plan and the co-parent could even be found to be in contempt of court and face fines, legal fees, and potentially even jail time. If you need help with a situation where a parent refuses to co-parent, or if you are struggling with the co-parenting relationship, the collaborative solution may be a way forward.

Truce Law is a collaborative divorce lawyer that helps divorcing couples and individuals facing custody situations find working solutions to their issues through discussion and negotiation. If you feel like communication has broken down, Truce Law is a family law firm in Seattle, Washington that may be able to help you resolve your differences without having to take your case to court. At the end of the day, it is often best for the child to have both parents in his or her life. Truce Law helps couples find peaceful solutions to difficult problems.

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