The following is a summary of Washington State child custody laws, and is by no means intended to be an all-inclusive description of what to expect in your particular case. In some cases, the exact text of the statute may have been simplified and/or modified to provide for easier understanding. For a more specific understanding of the laws, you should consult the full Washington Code and/or consult with an attorney about how the law might apply to your particular situation.

Parenting Plan.

Every divorce case involving child custody, whether uncontested or contested, must include a parenting plan that will set out provisions for resolution of future disputes between the parents, allocation of decision-making authority (legal custody), and residential provisions (physical custody) for the child.

-From (RCW 26.09.181-26.09.225)

Laws Restricting Visitation with the Child.

The court may place restrictions on a parent’s visitation time with the child if it finds any of the following factors exist:

  1. Willful abandonment that continues for an extended period of time or substantial refusal to perform parenting functions;
  2. Physical, sexual, or a pattern of emotional abuse of a child;
  3. A history of acts of domestic violence or an assault or sexual assault which causes grievous bodily harm or the fear of such harm.
  4. A parent’s neglect or substantial nonperformance of parenting functions;
  5. A long-term emotional or physical impairment which interferes with the parent’s performance of parenting functions as defined in RCW 26.09.004;
  6. A long-term impairment resulting from drug, alcohol, or other substance abuse that interferes with the performance of parenting functions;
  7. The absence or substantial impairment of emotional ties between the parent and the child;
  8. The abusive use of conflict by the parent which creates the danger of serious damage to the child’s psychological development;
  9. A parent has withheld from the other parent access to the child for a protracted period without good cause; or
  10. Such other factors or conduct as the court expressly finds adverse to the best interests of the child.

Legal Custody Guidelines.

Assuming none of the following factors exist, the court will allocate decision-making authority (legal custody) to one or both parties regarding the children’s education, health care, and religious upbringing based on the parenting plan proposed by the parents. Regardless of the allocation of decision-making in the parenting plan, either parent may make emergency decisions affecting the health or safety of the child. Each parent also may make decisions regarding the day-to-day care and control of the child while the child is residing with that parent.

The court shall consider the following in deciding whether to award in favor of or against joint legal custody:

  1. The history of participation of each parent in decision making regarding the child(ren);
  2. Whether the parents have a demonstrated ability and desire to cooperate with one another in making decisions regarding the child(ren);
  3. The parents’ geographic proximity to one another, to the extent that it affects their ability to make timely mutual decisions.

Physical Custody Guidelines.

The court shall make residential provisions for each child which 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. The court shall consider the following factors when determining the residential custody of the child:

  1. The relative strength, nature, and stability of the child’s relationship with each parent, including whether a parent has taken greater responsibility for performing parenting functions relating to the daily needs of the child;
  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;
  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.

Joint Physical Custody.

The court may order that a child frequently alternate his or her residence between the households of the parents for brief and substantially equal intervals of time (joint physical custody) only if the court finds the following:

  1. The parties have agreed to such provisions and the agreement was knowingly and voluntarily entered into; or
  2. The parties have a satisfactory history of cooperation and shared performance of parenting functions; the parties are available to each other, especially in geographic proximity, to the extent necessary to ensure their ability to share performance of the parenting functions; and the provisions are in the best interests of the child.

Access to Records.

Each parent shall have full and equal access to the education and health care records of the child absent a court order to the contrary. Neither parent may veto the access requested by the other parent.


This information has been summarized from the Washington statutes. You can find the full-text version of these and other Washington divorce statutes online here: Washington Divorce Laws.




IMPORTANT: Help Yourself Divorce is a paralegal service, not a law firm. Please don’t rely on this information for legal advice. Seek help from an attorney if you need legal advice.


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