Washington state has produced laws and procedures that govern child custody matters to ensure that the children of divorced or separated parents still receive the same standard of care as when the parents were together. These laws are found in the Washington State Revised Code in Title 26. Within these statutes the information concerning the requirements for the custody and visitation schedule can be found. This information is crucial for parents to understand, because they must make a custody schedule that the court will accept and uphold. Here is a brief overview of some of the rules that guide the visitation schedule.
1. The court may order a shared parenting time schedule. Title 26 gives the court that authority to order a shared parenting time schedule for the custody and visitation schedule. A shared parenting schedule means that the child frequently alternates his or her residence between the houses of the parents. Parents can also agree to this type of schedule before going to court. This obviously has a big impact on the custody schedule the parents create. Some of the factors the court considers when deciding to order this schedule are: if the parents have been able to cooperate previously, if the parents agree to the arrangement, if the parents live close to each other, if either parent has abandoned the child in the past, if it is in the best interest of the child, etc.
2. The court makes all custody decisions in the best interest of the child. In the first section of Title 26, the law specifically states that the court uses the standard of what is in the best interest of the child to make custody decisions and allocate parental authority. Parents must focus on this standard as they create their custody schedule. The parental time schedule should be based on the physical, emotional, and mental needs of the child. The child should have ample time with each parent to receive care and continue to develop relationships. The Washington court will not accept anything that doesn’t benefit the child.
3. The schedule should maintain the child’s emotional growth, physical health, and mental health. The law has declared that a schedule that is in the best interest of the child will maintain the child’s emotional growth, physical health, and mental health (this is found in Title 26). Parents must think of all these things as they create the visitation schedule. To help ensure that the schedule fulfills this requirement, the court will consider: the relative strength, nature, and stability of the child’s relationship with each parent; the daily roles that the parents fulfilled before separating; each parents past and potential future performance of parenting functions; the emotional needs and developmental level of the child; the child’s relationship with siblings and other influential people in the child’s life; the wishes of the parents and the child; and the parents’ employment schedules. All of these factors influence how the custody and visitation schedule should be made.