Split Custody Is Possible if in the Child’s Best Interests
The guiding principle for all child custody decisions in Washington State is the best interests of the child and not what is optimal for the parents.
Custody must determine three aspects:
- How much time the child spends with each parent
- Which parent(s) has decision-making authority for the child
- A detailed parenting plan establishes how the parents will co-parent their child, from holiday schedules to medical treatments.
When a divorcing couple has more than one child together, the residential schedule generally applies to all siblings. When it serves the best interests standard, siblings can be separated and follow different residential and visitation schedules.
Separating Children in Custody Decisions
Common custody arrangements names one parent as the custodial parent. The other parent is non-custodial. The children live primarily with the custodial parent, and the non-custodial parent is given visitation. The children may spend almost equal time with each parent, but one adult is called the custodial parent. The non-custodial parent typically pays child support to the custodial parent because they have a greater share of the child’s daily care.
In custody cases decided in court, the judge will consider multiple factors:
- The relationship between each parent and their children
- The relationship the child has with siblings or others in each parent’s household
- How the child is involved in their community
- Which parent has been the child’s primary caretaker
- The physical, emotional, and mental health of each parent
- Each parent’s ability to care for their child
Situations can persuade a judge that siblings should be separated, a concept called split custody. One child lives primarily with one parent. The other child lives with the other parent. These situations are rare as the state generally believes siblings should remain together.
These scenarios are examples of when split custody may be advised:
- A judge may separate siblings if they have an extremely antagonistic relationship.
- One parent is better suited to cope with a child struggling with mental health issues.
- The schedules of the parents work best with the needs of specific children.
- The children have stronger relationships with different parents.
Parents who use mediation or arbitration to resolve the custody arrangement can have great flexibility in creating a plan that works for the specific needs of the family. As long as their plan keeps the children safe and secure and meets their best interests, the judge will usually sign off on a plan that includes split custody.
Decision-Making Rights in Split Custody
Split custody does not necessarily mean that a parent loses decision-making authority for the child living with the other parent. Both parents can have an equal say in major life decisions affecting their children.
These major decisions include the following:
- Health Care
- Extracurricular Activities
Split custody agreements should also outline how parenting disagreements will be resolved.
Split Custody Can Be Modified
Like any other custody arrangement, split custody is subject to be modified when the plan no longer serves the child’s best interests. Child custody modification usually begins as a discussion between parents. Parents may be able to reach a new agreement with guidance from their attorneys. When reaching a new agreement is impossible, the case can be decided by a judge.
Compelling reasons for a judge to change a custody plan include the following:
- The current environment is detrimental to the child’s welfare
- A parent is failing to comply with residential time provisions
- An involuntary change in a parent’s work schedule makes the current plan impractical
Plan modifications agreed to by both parents must be approved by the court.
Creative Custody Solutions for Washington State Parents
McKinley Irvin is comprised of experienced attorneys who think creatively to help clients build parenting plans that work for them. Contact McKinley Irvin to schedule a consultation to discuss your case. Reach out online or call 206-397-0399.
- Child Custody