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December 31, 2021

How will a judge make a decision about residential time?

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 what sort of residential parenting time schedule will be in place. Below, we discuss how a judge will decide what to order.

When deciding residential parenting time, the schedule is supposed to encourage each parent to maintain a loving, stable, and nurturing relationship with the child, consistent with the child’s developmental level and the family’s social and economic circumstances. As a first step, the judge will see if any limitations on residential time exist according to RCW 26.09.191. The “limitations” could be due to a parent committing domestic violence, sexual assault, or child abuse or other factors. If the limitations of RCW 26.09.191 do not force the judge to limit residential time, the judge will consider the following factors:

  • the relative strength, nature, and stability of the child’s relationship with each parent;
  • each parent’s past record of performing, and potential future ability to perform, parenting functions relating to the daily needs of the child, including if one parent has taken greater responsibility in doing this;
  • any agreements the parents have made;
  • the emotional needs and developmental level of the child;
  • the child’s relationship with siblings and other significant adults;
  • the child’s involvement with his or her physical surroundings, school, or other activities;
  • each parent’s employment schedule;
  • the wishes of the parents; and
  • the wishes of a child who is mature enough to express his/her own preference as to the residential schedule.2Note: The judge would likely interview the child in chambers to find out the child’s wishes.3

If a parent or someone the parent lives with has committed domestic violence, sexual assault, or child abuse, the judge must consider these factors when deciding residential parenting time. 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. § 26.09.191(3)(a)
3 R.C.W. § 26.09.210

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