The consensus of child development experts around the world is that the best interest of our children is served when they have essentially equal access to the love, care, and resources of both of their biological parents. Despite this widely accepted knowledge, family courts in 49 of 50 states still encourage the outdated paradigm of inequality, essentially favoring one parent over the other, rather than encouraging a cooperative and collaborative effort in caring for children whose parents are not married or cohabitating. This is partly due to the fact that one parent’s motion for equal parental rights and responsibilities can be denied simply because the other parent objects. We believe that this is not only unjust and fails to serve the best interest of our families, but is also a violation of our fundamental right as parents to raise our own children. We, the parents of Washington, want our fundamental right to 50/50 equal, shared parenting upheld when there is no justifiable reason for it to be denied.
This bill was introduced in the 2017 legislation by House Representative Larry Haler. You can review the proposed legislative changes and comment on the bill here: House Bill 1554.
Data Collection and Reporting
We know that parents are being denied residential time with their children, despite motioning the court for more time, even when there are no risk factors present. We also know that 50/50 parenting arrangements are requested nearly 25% of the time, but awarded less than 3% of the time if one parent is opposed. This data is available from the Washington State Center for Court Research, but new data hasn’t been published since 2013. This type of data is essential for a transparent and accountable family court system. In 2017, we want to know not only how the residential time is being divided we’d like to know why parents aren’t being ordered equal custody. We’d like to know how income and representation impact these decisions. We’d like to know how much child support is being ordered and if that is a significant factor in denying a parent their rights. We want to know how often unfounded accusations of domestic violence are being raised as factors and if/how this is influencing judicial decisions. And we want to know if/how bias and/or favoritism is influencing our judiciary. These are extremely important questions that impact the health and well-being of our families, our children, and our future.
Audit the Commission on Judicial Conduct
Legislators in California ordered a ground breaking audit of their California Commission on Judicial Performance after it was discovered that of thousands of complaints filed against judges, less than 2% result in any disciplinary action, and 80% of those were done privately. The Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct has an even worse record for disciplining judges – less than 1.5% of complaints result in any action being taken, despite proven patterns of failure to uphold due process and other fundamental rights. Furthermore, at least half of the inquiries received by the commission never even resulted in a complaint being filed, which would suggest that not only are they not taking complaints seriously, but they’re also discouraging them from being filed in the first place. We want to know that our elected judiciary will be held accountable for upholding their oath to protect each and every right and liberty guaranteed to us by our constitution and that when those rights are violated, they will be disciplined or removed. Justice cannot be guaranteed if our officials aren’t required to answer to the citizens they serve.
Protection for Families of Veterans
Military service can be a major determining factor in child custody determinations. Service obligations, deployments, permanent changes of station, training cycles, and other needs of the military can substantially impact a parent’s ability to exercise their parental rights and tend to parenting duties. Our military commanders go to great lengths to protect military families and serving our nation should not have a permanent impact on a service member’s ability or rights to care for their children. We would like to implement a policy that would allow active duty or recently separated service members to have their final orders revisited and cases reheard, if requested, to reconsider how their changed circumstances allow for more favorable custody arrangements. This would allow servicemembers a period of adjustment, to complete service obligations, request a PCS, or to transfer services in order to better position themselves to care for their families.