Washington Custody and Visitation Schedules
Your child custody and visitation schedule is important to you and to your child. Here's how to set up a Washington visitation schedule.
You can create your own custody and visitation schedule (on your own or with the other parent) or you can work with an attorney or legal professional and have them create it. If you don't want to pay the high cost of an attorney, and want to easily make your own schedule, you can use the Custody X Change software.
Custody X Change is software that creates custody schedules, calendars, and professional parenting plan documents.
When you use the law as a guide when creating your Washington State child visitation schedule, it will give you an advantage and increases the likeliness that you will have a positive outcome in your child custody and visitation case.
These laws can be found in the Revised Code of Washington, Title 26, Domestic Relations.
The legislation contains specific information regarding the processes of the court, the criteria the court uses to decide custody issues, and has definitions for many of the terms used by the court.
Being familiar with the laws regarding child custody and visitation in the state is vital to the success of your schedule.
Chapter 26.09.184 of the Revised Code of Washington has the objectives of the Washington parenting plan. These objectives are the same for your custody and visitation schedule and you need to make sure that your schedule meets these objectives when you make it.
The objectives of your schedule are to:
- Provide for your child's physical care
- Maintain your child's emotional stability
- Provide for your child's changing needs as your child grows and matures, in a way that minimizes the need for future changes to the schedule or plan
- Set forth the authority and responsibility of each parent regarding your child
- Minimize your child's exposure to harmful parental conflict
- Encourage the parents to meet the obligations to your child through agreements in the plan or schedule rather than by relying on judicial intervention
- Protect the best interests of your child
This means that you need to think about what type of schedule will be best for your child and determine a schedule that will meet your child's needs.
You should always keep this at the forefront of your mind as you make decisions regarding where your child will live and how you will divide parenting time.
Parents that bring child custody litigation before the court in the State of Washington are required to submit a child visitation schedule as part of a parenting plan to the court (RCW 26.09.181).
A Washington State child visitation schedule should contain:
- A regular residential schedule that establishes a primary residence for your child and specifies when your child will spend time with each parent. The schedule should provide your child with stability and security by ensuring that he or she is able to spend time with each parent on a frequent, ongoing basis.
- A schedule for holidays and special occasions, such as birthdays, Mother's Day, Father's Day, and any dates that are significant and special to the family. The holiday schedule should provide your child with ample time with both parents for holidays. Many parents opt to rotate holidays throughout the year, alternating them in even and odd years. Some parents prefer to schedule holiday and special occasion time according to family traditions or religious preferences. You may create the holiday schedule as you would like, as long as it is in the best interest of your child.
- A vacation schedule or stipulations for spending vacation time with your child. Provisions for each parent's personal vacation time, as well as your child's winter, spring, and summer school breaks, should be included. As vacation time may be difficult to predict, the amount of time each parent shall have each year and the amount of advanced notice the parents should give each other should be included.
In the State of Washington, the court shall agree to a submitted child visitation schedule and/or make residential provisions for the child based on the following factors (RCW 26.09.187.3):
- The nature of the child's relationship with each parent, including the stability and quality of the relationship. Above all factors, this is given the greatest weight when determining residential provisions.
- The agreement submitted by the parents.
- The past and potential conduct of each parent, including which parent has acted as the child's primary caregiver and the history of the parents' performance of parenting functions.
- The child's emotional and developmental needs.
- The child's adjustment to his or her home, school, and community.
- The child's interrelationships with any siblings, other relatives, and other persons of significance in the child's life.
- The wishes of the parents as to the residential provisions.
- The wishes of the child as to a residential preference, if the child is old enough and mature enough to voice a reasonable and independent preference.
- The employment schedules of the parents, as it pertains to the availability of the parents, so that accommodations can be made accordingly.
- The geographic proximity of the parents' homes and the feasibility of sharing time with the child in an equitable manner, if appropriate.
Washington State courts use the best interests of the child as the ultimate determining factor when ruling on custody cases.
There are a variety of factors the court considers to affect the best interests of a child, including:
- The physical and mental health of the parents
- Any special needs the child may have and which parent is better equipped to meet those needs
- Each parent's interest in being a good parent
- The willingness and capability of a parent to perform parenting functions in a satisfactory manner
- Whether or not a parent has failed to protect the child, allowed the child to be in a harmful situation or environment, has perpetrated abuse on the child, or has been neglectful to the child
- Any history of domestic violence, any form of abuse, including substance abuse, and any criminal history that is relevant to the health, safety, and well-being of the child
The bottom line is common sense. The court will favor the parent that has demonstrated an ability to properly love, nurture, and take care of the child.
The parent that has better provided the child with security, stability, and a safe environment will always be favored over the parent that has been proven to be reckless, harmful, or indifferent to the child.
In most cases, parents are able to reach an agreement on their own prior to their cases being finalized. In fact, Washington courts only determine visitation schedules about five percent of the time.
When you are able to reach an agreement with the other parent on your own, even if you have to attend mediation, you should be able to create a child visitation schedule that meets the needs of your child and provides your child with the optimal amount of time with both of you.
When a proposed schedule is submitted, the court will review it to ensure it meets the needs of the child and will approve it accordingly.
The court will only provide a schedule for you if you are unable or unwilling to do so on your own.
The top twenty cities in Washington (by population, US Census Bureau, 2008) are: Seattle, Spokane, Tacoma, Vancouver, Bellevue, Everett, Spokane Valley, Federal Way, Yakima, Kent, Bellingham, Kennewick, Renton, Lakewood, Auburn, Pasco, Shoreline, Redmond, Kirkland, Richland.