Washington Court Cannot Grant Sole Decision-Making Authority to Parent with History of Domestic Violence

Domestic violence can affect all aspects of family life, including child custody.  Pursuant to RCW 26.09.191(1)(c), a final parenting plan cannot require the parents to engage in mutual decision-making where the court finds a parent engaged in a history of domestic violence.  A mother recently appealed a court order granting the father sole decision-making after the court found he had a history of domestic violence.

A few days after the father filed for divorce, the mother called 911 and reported a domestic assault.  The father told police she had attacked him.  The mother was arrested and a criminal no-contact order was issued to prevent her from contacting the father or going to the family home.  The father also obtained a temporary restraining order preventing her from contacting him or their children.

Each party petitioned for a domestic violence protection order (DVPO) as part of the divorce proceeding.  The court reissued the father’s temporary restraining order, but removed the children from it.  It also reissued the mother’s temporary DVPO.  The court granted the mother weekend residential time with the children and appointed a guardian ad litem.

The court referred the parties for a domestic violence assessment. The caseworker found the mother to be more credible and recommended the court grant her request for a DVPO.  The court granted her request and ordered the father to enroll in domestic violence treatment.

The guardian ad litem recommended a shared residential schedule.  She also recommended the father participate in a domestic violence program and suggested restrictions against him may be appropriate.  She found, however, that the “future risk of violence . . . seems low.” She further found that the parents should have joint authority over major decisions, but if the court had to grant sole decision-making to one parent, it should be the father due to his history as the primary parent.

The father asked to be granted the right to make major decisions based on his history as the primary parent, but the mother argued she should have sole decision-making authority due to the father’s history of domestic violence.  She also asked to be named the residential parent.

In its oral ruling, the court found the parents should have equal residential time.  It gave the father sole decision-making authority but required him to “solicit and consider the mother’s input.” In the final parenting plan, the court named the father the custodial parent, with equal residential time for both parents.  The court granted the father sole decision-making authority, but required him to give the mother seven days’ notice.  The court noted that RCW 26.09.191(1)(c) prohibits a parenting plan from requiring mutual decision making where there has been a history of domestic violence.

The mother appealed, arguing the court erred in granting the father sole-decision making when he had a history of domestic violence.  The trial court found “the father engaged in verbally and physically aggressive behavior. . . that rose to the level of domestic violence. . .”  The father argued RCW 26.09.191(1)(c) did not specify which parent is to be awarded sole decision-making authority when the court finds “a parent” has engaged in domestic violence.

The appeals court looked to the statutory scheme as a whole, particularly RCW 26.09.187(2)(b)(i).  That statute requires sole decision-making authority be awarded to one parent when the court finds a “limitation on the other parent’s decision-making authority is mandated by RCW 26.09.191.”  The appeals court found the statutes, taken together, require the court to grant sole decision-making authority to the parent without a history of domestic violence.  The appeals court reversed the order granting the father sole decision-making authority.

Blair & Kim, PLLC, has years of experience in family law, civil protection orders, and criminal law.  We have a thorough understanding of the laws relating to domestic violence.  Call (206) 622-6562 to discuss your case with an experienced Washington family law attorney.

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