Washington parents beginning the custody process may have many questions about how custody is decided. Generally, the best custody schedule is one that is agreed upon between you and the other parent.
Washington law allows joint custody, which involves a custody schedule with equal time for each parent, if you and the other parent agree to it and a court determines the schedule is in your child’s best interest. However, the reality is that not all parents can agree on a custody schedule. When this happens, the court must decide the schedule.
A court considers many complex factors
Every custody situation is unique, and there are many factors a court looks at when creating a custody schedule believed to be in the child’s best interest. One major consideration is which parent has historically been the primary parent for taking care of the child’s daily needs and spending the most time with the child.
Additional factors a court considers include:
- The child’s developmental level
- The child’s relationships with siblings or other household members
- The child’s activities in school or the community
- Each parent’s wishes
- Each parent’s ability to care for the child
Many people assume that when a child reaches a certain age, they may tell a court what custody schedule they would like, and the court will order it. This is not true. The child’s wishes are a factor, but they are only one factor considered with the others.
Additionally, a child’s wishes do not become a factor until the child is at a mature enough age to clearly articulate their custody preference. This typically does not occur until the child is a teenager.
Courts may not consider income or stepparent relationships
There are factors that a court should not look at when deciding custody. The income of the parents should not be considered. It is unfair to punish one parent by withholding time with their child simply because they do not earn enough money.
The presence of a stepparent or future stepparent is also not a custody factor. Like income, a parent should not be deprived of time with their child because they do not have another person in the household to share parenting responsibilities.
Even parents with an amicable relationship can face challenges when deciding a custody schedule. Having the advice and guidance of a professional can help.