How Does the Court Decide Residential Time?

How Does the Court Decide Child Custody?

At some point during your divorce case, friends and family members whose own marriages ended in divorce probably told you that it gets better, and it does. Of course, from your perspective, getting out of a bad marriage might be such a relief that it makes it easier for you not to sweat the small stuff. It is easy to let your ex’s sharply worded text messages roll off of you like water off of a duck’s back. Sure, money might be tighter now, but you cherish your independence.

The one part of divorce that is almost impossible for anyone no matter how optimistic or emotionally detached, to laugh off is co-parenting. Divorce calls you to account for all of your imperfections as a parent. Raising children is hard enough when you are married; it is exponentially harder when you are divorced. The good news is that your fears about the court punishing you for every smart-aleck comment your children have ever made and every unhealthy snack they have ever ingested by taking away your parenting time are probably unfounded. Most likely, your ex does not really want to take your children away from you; your ex is probably just trying to get under your skin by saying that.

Even if your ex did want to take your children away from you, the court would be the voice of reason. But the idea is to avoid court if you can. In keeping with this goal a Seattle parenting plans lawyer can help you navigate the process of creating a parenting plan and then abiding by it.

Most of the Time the Parents Decide

Even if it seems like years since you and your ex have been able to find common ground about anything, you will probably be among the majority of divorcing couples who agree to the terms of a parenting plan during divorce mediation. With the help of your lawyers, you can work out the details of which parent is with the children on which holidays and when each parent will transport the children from one parent’s house to the other’s. You will probably find that it is obvious to both parents that the children should spend school nights with the parent whose address is in such a location that the children can continue to attend the same school they have been attending. 

Washington, like every other state, has guidelines for judges to follow when setting parenting plans, but the judges must only follow these guidelines in cases that go to trial. A much more likely scenario is that the parents agree on the terms of the parenting plan during mediation, and the judge simply signs off on it and makes it official with a court order.  If your ex insists on wildly impractical requests and refuses to budge, your case will probably have to go to trial, but the parenting plan will probably not be the only issue on which your ex refuses to seek a middle ground.

Factors That the Family Court Considers in Determining a Child’s Best Interests

When judges make decisions about parenting plans, their primary concern is the best interests of the children, not a ruling in favor of one parent and against the other. Parenting plans are not about winning or losing. These are some factors the court may consider when deciding which parent gets more parenting time:

  • Which parent has, up to this point, been more involved with the children’s schooling, extracurricular activities, bedroom routines, doctor’s office visits, and other day-in, day-out aspects of parenting
  • How much each parent encourages or hinders the children’s relationship with the other parent
  • Opportunities for the children to spend time with extended family members on both sides of the family
  • Whether either parent has a history of endangering the children by exposing them to violence, drunk driving, or illegal drugs

The parent’s gender is not an issue in decisions concerning residential time. Washington law does not automatically favor mothers, nor does it assume that, once children reach school age, they should spend more time with their same-sex parent than their opposite-sex parent.

You also do not have to be a perfect angel to deserve your fair share of parenting time. It does not count against you if you cheated on your spouse or started dating someone new soon after filing for divorce. The court also will not fault you for having tattoos or smoking weed within the limits of the law. You are the right person for your children because you are their parent and always have been.

Stepparents, stepsiblings, and half-siblings can affect the judge’s decision positively, negatively, or not at all. The judge might decide that the stepmother’s availability to pick up the children from school on Fridays means that the children should be at Dad’s house from Friday afternoon until Sunday evening instead of Saturday morning until Sunday evening. Likewise, the judge might decide that the children should spend school nights with Mom even though they do not especially care for Stepdad because it is a more conducive environment to studying than Dad’s house, where Baby Half-Sibling fusses all the time, and Dad and Stepmom expect the older children to help with childcare.

Contact Elise Buie Family Law About Parenting Plan Cases

A family law attorney can help you finalize a parenting plan, most likely without going to trial. Contact Elise Buie Family Law in Seattle, Washington, to set up a consultation.


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