Legal Custody vs. Physical Custody
In a Washington divorce case, custody of children can be categorized into two elements – physical and legal custody.
Physical custody has to do with the parent the child lives with. The residential schedule will be clearly outlined in the parenting plan. The parent with physical custody will be the one to take care of the child, discipline him or her, and make decisions about daily activities,
Legal custody has to do with a parents’ rights and responsibilities. The parent with legal custody will be responsible for making major life decisions that affect the child, including the child's education, medical care, upbringing, religious training, and extracurricular activities.
Factors Considered in Determining Custody
When determining child custody, creating a parenting plan, or allocating decision-making authority, the judge may consider the following relevant factors (Washington Revised Code Section 26.09.187):
- The ability and willingness of both parents to work together
- Each parent's history of participation in decision-making over the child
- The geographical proximity of each parent
Also, the judge may evaluate the family's overall circumstances, including:
- The role of each parent in caring for and attending to the child's daily needs
- The strength, nature, and stability of the child's relationship with each parent
- The emotional and developmental needs of the child
- The mental health of each parent
- The ability of the child to adjust to a new home, school, and community
- The existing relationship between the child, other siblings, and extended family members
- The reasonable preference of the child
- Any history of domestic violence by the parents
- Each parent's wishes for custody
- The employment schedule of each parent
- Any other factor deemed relevant by the court
Minimum Parenting Time
In Washington, the minimum parenting time under the state's child custody guidelines requires that the noncustodial parent must receive one weeknight visit and visits every other weekend. At the judge's discretion, the noncustodial parent can get more than the minimum amount of visitation, but not less.
Modifying an Existing Child Custody Arrangement
Child custody arrangements are not set in stone. In the state of Washington, either parent can petition a request to modify custody. For your case to be heard, the requesting parent must show that:
- There has been a material change in circumstances, and
- The child's best interests warrant a custody modification.
Some major life events that may warrant child custody or parenting plan modification include:
- A loss of employment
- A sudden change in either party's finances
- Change in the mental or physical condition of the parent
- Failure to adhere to the existing order
- The child is seriously struggling in school or the new environment
- A change in the child's preference, for a child who is at least 12 years old
- The death of one of the parents
Work With an Experienced Family Law Attorney
In every divorce scenario, determining child custody rights and parenting time is often a contentious battle. Resolving custody issues with your estranged spouse, establishing child custody agreements, determining parental responsibility, and allocating parenting time can involve different complexities. Therefore, consulting with an experienced family law attorney is important for proper guidance and to protect your future and your family's best interest.
Our dedicated team of experienced child custody attorneys at Curiale Hostnik PLLC have devoted their careers to providing outstanding legal services and handling family law-related matters, including child custody arrangements and modifications. As your legal counsel, we will evaluate your unique circumstances and guide you through the legal process involved in establishing or modifying a child custody arrangement.
What's more, our team will work with both parents to establish a fair parenting plan, including child custody, parenting time, parental rights, and responsibility. We will help resolve child custody issues as peacefully and productively as possible.