Washington State Parenting Plan and Child Custody Decisions

What are the factors the court considers when deciding child custody, which in Washington is called a Parenting Plan?

A “Parenting Plan” is a court order that sets forth the amount of time that a child will spend with each parent (the “residential schedule”), the method for resolving disputes between the parents, and whether one or both parents will make major decisions about the child.

How do courts make child custody decisions?

In Washington, there is no presumption that the child should primarily reside with the parent who has been the primary caregiver although courts often consider this a very important factor.  Instead, the court is required to consider and balance seven factors when determining the provisions of a permanent Parenting Plan.  These factors, found in RCW 26.09.187(3), are as follows, with the first factor given the greatest weight:

  1. The relative strength, nature, and stability of the child’s relationship with each parent;
  2. The agreements of the parties, provided they were entered into knowingly and voluntarily;
  3. 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;
  4. The emotional needs and developmental level of the child;
  5. 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;
  6. 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
  7. Each parent’s employment schedule, and shall make accommodations consistent with those schedules.

When considering these factors, the court must make a decision that is in the “best interests of the child.”  The best interests of the child are served by a parenting arrangement that best maintains a child’s emotional growth, health and stability, and physical care.

Further, the best interest of the child is ordinarily served when the existing pattern of interaction between a parent and child is altered only to the extent necessitated by the changed relationship of the parents or as required to protect the child from physical, mental, or emotional harm.  See RCW 26.09.002.

Child Custody 50/50 Residential Schedules

Many parents desire to have a “50/50” residential schedule with the child spending substantially equal time in each parent’s household.  In Washington State the court may order that a child frequently alternate his or her residence between the parents’ households if there are no restrictions on a parent under RCW 26.09.191, if the parents agree or if the parents have a history of cooperation and shared performance of parenting functions, and if it is in the best interests of the child.  See RCW 26.09.187.

Many child development experts believe that a residential schedule with frequent exchanges between the parents can harm children if there is a high degree of conflict between the parents.  High conflict between the parents is a reason often given for not ordering a “50/50” shared residential schedule.

If you aren’t sure how to negotiate a parenting plan, Integrative Family Law can help.

The child custody lawyers at Integrative Family Law in Seattle, WA can help with a Washington state parenting plan that keeps the best interests of your child in mind. Call us at 206.859.6800 to schedule a consultation.


Nothing on this page is intended as legal advice for an individual.
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