Washington law does not use the terms “custody” and “visitation” when referring to arrangements for children following a divorce or separation. Rather, Washington law refers to the term “residential schedule” in order to describe the parents’ physical custody and visitation arrangement. The primary residential parent is equivalent to the custodial parent, or the parent with whom the child resides most of the time. On the other hand, the non-residential parent is the parent with whom the child visits with or spends less time with than the primary residential parent.

While a traditional court order designates a primary residential parent and a non-residential parent, a court can order an equal-time or 50/50 residential schedule under certain circumstances, if it is in the child’s best interests. A court typically will only order a joint parenting arrangement if the parents have a demonstrated history of working together to co-parent their child and make necessary decisions for the child. Another common consideration is the geographical proximity of the parents to one another, which is often necessary to make a true joint custody arrangement feasible.

Under Washington law, the child’s residential schedule and the ability of the parents to make decisions for the child are addressed separately. A parent with whom the child is currently residing has the power to make day-to-day and emergency decisions on the child’s behalf. However, the ability to make significant decisions that affect the child is outlined in the family’s parenting plan. Examples of significant decisions include decisions about medical care, education, religious upbringing, and the age at which the child should date or have a cell phone. The court can order either the primary residential parent or the non-residential parent to have the power to make these decisions, or the parents may have the power only to make decisions jointly. In determining whether to leave this decision-making authority to one or both parents, the court can consider a number of different factors, including whether the parents agree to mutual decision-making, a history of abuse, abandonment, or neglect by either parent, the desire and cooperativeness of each parent to participate in the decision-making process, the historical participation of each parent in the decision-making process, and the parties’ geographical proximity to one another.

Whether you are seeking joint or sole custody of your child, our Washington child custody attorneys can guide you through every step of the court proceedings necessary to obtain custody. We are here to answer your questions, both now and in the future, about your custody case and the impact that contested custody proceedings will have on your family. At Pacific Northwest Family Law, we have represented the interests of countless families throughout the child custody process. Contact our office today at (509) 572-3700 or by e-mail at [email protected] and set up a time to talk about your case.