DUIs and Child Custody: A Washington Guide

Many things can happen if you get a DUI, and child custody changes can be one of them. In many cases, a first-time charge or one that doesn’t pose a risk to others or your child won’t affect custody. But if the child was in the car or you’ve had DUIs in the past, the court may use this as a basis to change the parenting plan. 

If you do lose some or all custody rights, it may be possible for you to regain them later on. But you would need to persuade the judge that there’s been a substantial change in circumstances. Additionally, you’d need to prove that modifying the current arrangement is in the best interests of your children. 

Veitch Ault Defense helps parents defend themselves against DUI charges to limit the impact on parenting time. Going through the criminal justice system can be disorienting, especially for parents who risk losing custody of their kids. A Washington DUI attorney at our office helps people reduce the charges against them or the consequences they might face. 

DUI Convictions and Child Custody: The Basics

A DUI’s consequences on child custody depend on many factors, such as the type of parenting plan in place to begin with. Custody encompasses decision-making authority, residential time, and other components of raising a child. So, getting a DUI conviction may cause someone to lose some of or all their residential time with their child, but they may not lose supervised visitation or decision-making authority. 

Additionally, the circumstances of the arrest and the person’s prior record can influence the judge’s decision about custody. Those with a history of substance use or what the court views as reckless behavior may be more likely to lose custody over a DUI than others. Again, the outcome changes on a case-by-case basis. 

What Are the Different Types of Child Custody?

In a divorce, parentage, or other family law case, parents might get legal or physical custody of their children. Additionally, they might have sole or joint custody, depending on if they share these parental responsibilities with the other parent. In Washington, the courts also refer to custody as decision-making authority and residential or parenting time. 

Legal custody refers to making important decisions about the child. For example, this might include deciding where they go to school, their religion, and what doctor they see (and when). In contrast, physical custody (residential time) describes where the child stays on a primary basis. In other words, it explains what house is “home base” for most of the year. 

Courts divide these decision-making responsibilities in many ways, depending on the children’s best interests. For example, one parent may house the child for most of the year, but both parents have a say in the big stuff, such as the child’s religion. The final agreement that the parents need to follow is called the parenting plan. It describes who is responsible for what and details things like the visitation schedule. 

How Does the Court Decide Who Gets Child Custody?

In all cases involving child custody, the court makes the final decision based on the children’s best interest. Washington law requires courts to look at many factors to make this determination, including: 

  • The stability of each parent’s home environment, 
  • The preferences of the child (where age-appropriate), 
  • The parent’s ability to provide for the child in the past, 
  • The developmental stage and needs of the child, and
  • The work schedule of each parent. 

If a substantial change in circumstances occurs, someone can ask the court to adjust the existing parenting plan schedule. If something happens that the court sees as a risk to the child, the judge may decide to revoke or heavily modify the child custody arrangement. 

Can You Lose Custody Due to a DUI?

It’s possible to lose custody of your child if you get a DUI, but it depends on the circumstances. For example, if your child was in the car with you when you were arrested for drinking and driving, the court may see this as a risk to your child. In fact, if the child is under 16, Washington law may require the police to notify child protective services. In turn, the judge might decide to take away custody in some respect. 

Additionally, if the court thinks you have a history of drinking, substance use, or DUIs, it’s probably less likely to maintain the status quo versus changing the parenting time schedule. But if it’s a one-time event and no one was injured or at risk, the court may be less likely to revoke custody because of it. Finally, if you get a felony DUI and are sent to prison for it, this may require a change in who has residential custody of the children. 

One way to limit the impact of a DUI on child custody is to defend yourself against the charges. King County DUI attorneys advocate for people facing DUI charges. They fight to have the charges reduced or dismissed, which might limit the impact on child custody. 

What Happens if Someone Gets a DUI in Family Law Cases?

What happens after a DUI in a family law matter changes on a case-by-case basis. If the child was in the car with the parent or sibling who got the DUI, the police may notify child protective services. In many cases, the authorities won’t automatically take the child away from the parents right away. But they might if no one is available to take the child or if they believe there’s evidence of things like abuse. 

Even without child protective services being involved, the DUI might influence the outcome of a family law case. For example, the judge may believe that the parent who got the DUI is at risk of repeating the same behavior. In that case, they may decide the best interests of the children call for them to stay with the other parent. 

But just because one parent may lose physical or residential custody doesn’t mean they can’t be involved in the child’s upbringing. For example, they may still share legal custody or decision-making authority with the other parent. Likewise, they may take steps to regain parenting time later on. 

Can You Regain Custody if You Lose It Because of a DUI?

Regaining custody after losing it because of a DUI is possible. But it depends on the specific circumstances at play. If your child was in the car with you when you got the DUI, the court may be less enthusiastic about giving you custody again. That said, if it was a one-time event, no one was injured, or enough time has passed since you got the DUI, you may be able to emphasize other factors in your favor. 

To get custody back, you must ask the judge for permission to modify the parenting plan. Like with the initial court proceeding, you would have to propose an arrangement that aligns with the children’s best interests. Additionally, you might need to show that there’s a substantial change in circumstances that merits modifying the old arrangement. So, while it’s possible to get custody back after it’s been taken away, there are legal requirements you need to meet before doing so. 

Veitch Ault Defense: WA Attorneys Providing DUI Defense for Parents

When you’re a parent, you care deeply about your children and want to spend as much time with them as possible. If a mistake happens that may jeopardize your ability to see them, you need a winning criminal defense team on your side to help you through it. 

Robert Ault of Veitch Ault Defense has been a guiding light for many parents charged with DUIs. Past clients appreciate his down-to-earth approach to practicing law and how he makes them feel supported and in the loop throughout the process. With nearly two decades of criminal defense experience, Rob understands that going through a DUI case can feel overwhelming and confusing to many people. He is dedicated to fighting for people’s rights in an empowering way so they know what to expect. 

If you were arrested for a DUI and think it might impact child custody, call Rob today at 425-312-6753 or contact him online to schedule a consultation. 


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