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Legal Information: Washington

Custody

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Updated: 
December 3, 2020

How will a judge determine decision-making authority?

All decisions about custody are supposed to be based on the “best interest” of the child.1 A custody decision, as written into a parenting plan, will decide whether to give one parent sole decision-making authority or to give both parents mutual decision-making authority. Below, we discuss how a judge will decide what to order.

If the parents agree on how to divide up decision-making authority regarding the children’s education, health care, and religious upbringing, the judge will approve this parenting plan if:

If the parents cannot agree on how to divide up decision-making authority in their proposed parenting plans, the judge can order sole decision-making authority to one parent if:

When deciding whether or not to order mutual decision-making, the judge will consider:

  • the history of each parent’s participation in deciding issues regarding the children’s education, health care, and religious upbringing;
  • whether or not the parents have a demonstrated ability and desire to cooperate with one another in making decisions regarding the children’s education, health care, and religious upbringing;
  • how close the parents live to each other to the extent that it affects their ability to make timely mutual decisions; and
  • the existence of any limitation under RCW 26.09.191, which could be due to a parent committing domestic violence, sexual assault, or child abuse or other factors.4

If a parent or someone with whom the parent lives has committed domestic violence, sexual assault, or child abuse, the judge must consider these factors when deciding decision-making. For more information, see the questions in the section called When the parent –or someone who lives with the parent– is abusive.

1 R.C.W. § 26.09.187
2 R.C.W. § 26.09.187(2)(a); see R.C.W. § 26.09.184(5)(a)
3 R.C.W. § 26.09.187(2)(b)
4 R.C.W. § 26.09.187(2)(c)