Child Custody Terms Coparents Need to Know
When parents separate or are otherwise not in a relationship, deciding how they will coparent their children is a critical step. A legal agreement – called a parenting plan – must include specific details before it is approved by a judge.
A parenting plan is unique to the situation but addresses the following components:
- Where the child will live most of the time
- Each parent’s decision-making power for the child
- Visitation and vacation schedules
- Child support award
- How the parents will resolve disagreements
It’s important to have a thorough understanding of Washington child custody terms. There are two types of custody: legal and physical. Within these two categories, a parent can have either joint or sole custody. Interestingly, Washington law does not specifically use that exact language but does include the concepts.
Physical custody refers to where the child lives. The parenting plan outlines where the child will live until their 18th birthday. The child cannot sleep in two different places on the same night. In most cases, an exact 50/50 split is virtually impossible. The child typically lives more days with one parent (primary).
Legal custody has nothing to do with the child’s residence. Legal custody refers to who has decision making power for the child.
The parent with legal custody chooses where the child goes to school, whether the child is vaccinated, and many other determinations.
Sole vs. Joint Custody
Within the umbrella categories of physical and legal custody are two different arrangements, sole and joint. Sole custody means that only one parent is given the right. Joint gives the right to both parents.
There are multiple possible custody arrangements:
- Sole legal custody, sole physical custody: The child lives all the time with one parent. That parent also has the right to make all decisions for the child.
- Joint legal custody, sole physical custody: Parents share in making decisions for the child, but the child lives only with one parent.
- Sole legal custody, joint physical custody: The child alternates living with each parent, but only one parent makes decisions for the child.
- Joint legal custody, joint physical custody: Both parents have the power to make decisions for the child. The child rotates living with each parent.
If a parent is awarded sole physical custody, the non-custodial parent is typically given significant visitation time with the child. Washington courts presume that the child’s best interests are served by having a relationship with both parents. The court can order only supervised visitation or deny all contact in cases where the child’s safety and well-being could be compromised.
In sole legal custody, one parent is granted the right to make all decisions on behalf of the child. The other parent can make emergency decisions such as medical care when the child is with them.
Parenting Plans that Work for the Whole Family
As seasoned family law attorneys, we are experienced in tough child custody cases. Everyone typically wants what is best for the children, but parents can have different opinions on what that means. Our experience enables us to find creative, practical solutions that work for each family.
Contact us online or call 206-397-0399 to schedule a consultation if you are considering divorce or a parenting plan modification.