Who gets Custody is a big question. How it is answered can have lifelong consequences for both parents and their children. When faced with this difficult situation, having an attorney to help throughout the process is always recommended.
In Washington State, “Custody” is determined by a Parenting Plan or Residential Schedule and is usually based on the number of overnights each parent receives. The standard for determining who gets primary custody is what is in the best interest of the child or children.
When making this determination the Court will award custody based on the following factors set forth in RCW 26.09.187:
- (i) The relative strength, nature, and stability of the child’s relationship with each parent;
- (ii) The agreements of the parties, provided they were entered into knowingly and voluntarily;
- (iii) Each parent’s past and potential for future performance of parenting functions, including whether a parent has taken greater responsibility for performing parenting functions relating to the daily needs of the child;
- (iv) The emotional needs and developmental level of the child;
- (v) The child’s relationship with siblings and with other significant adults, as well as the child’s involvement with his or her physical surroundings, school, or other significant activities;
- (vi) The wishes of the parents and the wishes of a child who is sufficiently mature to express reasoned and independent preferences as to his or her residential schedule; and
- (vii) Each parent’s employment schedule, and shall make accommodations consistent with those schedules.
The Court will consider all of the factors, but the first factor shall be given the greatest weight. In most cases, considering the history of each parent’s role in the child’s life will be important.
Remember, the Court wants to enter a Parenting Plan that allows each parent to maintain a loving, stable, and nurturing relationship with the child or children and will consider the child’s developmental level and the family’s social and economic circumstances.
This general rule of thumb always has exceptions, especially when there has been domestic violence, or other types of situations where the Court will limit visitation.