How Does a Court Decide the Residential Schedule?

The court wants the child to have a loving and stable relationship with his or her parents, if possible. Often the court will give the greatest amount of residential time to the parent who has been most involved in performing parenting functions, caring for the child’s daily needs, because will probably conclude that parent and child’s relationship is strongest and provides more stability.

The court will consider any relevant information but it may not give all information the same weight or importance. Factors the court will consider include:

a) Agreements about parenting

b) How well each parent has performed parenting functions in the past, and their ability to do so in the future.

c) The child’s relationships with siblings and other relatives

d) The child’s age, developmental and educational needs

e) How involved the child is socially and with extra-curricular activities in one setting vs. the other

In trying to achieve stability for the child, the court will craft a plan it believes:

a) Provides for the child’s physical needs and emotional health

b) Suits the changing needs of the child but minimizes the need to alter the plan

c) Sets forth the respective authority and responsibility of each parent

d) Minimizes the child’s exposure to parental conflict

e) Encourages agreement between the parents

f) Protects the best interest of the child

g) Provides sufficient clarity and specificity so the plan can be understood and enforced

h) Takes into consideration any needed limitations on the parents

For cases where there are no RCW 26.09.191 limitations, the Washington State legislature has written a law listing some of the things the court is to consider. RCW 26.09.187 provides that:

RESIDENTIAL PROVISIONS.

(a) 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 child’s residential schedule shall be consistent with RCW 26.09.191. Where the limitations of RCW 26.09.191 are not dispositive of the child’s residential schedule, the court shall consider the following factors:

(i) The relative strength, nature, and stability of the child’s relationship with each parent;

(ii) The agreements of the parties, provided they were entered into knowingly and voluntarily;

(iii) Each parent’s past and potential for future performance of parenting functions as defined in RCW 26.09.004(3), including whether a parent has taken greater responsibility for performing parenting functions relating to the daily needs of the child;

(iv) The emotional needs and developmental level of the child;

(v) 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;

(vi) 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

(vii) Each parent’s employment schedule, and shall make accommodations consistent with those schedules.

Factor (i) shall be given the greatest weight (emphasis added).

 

The rules of evidence apply to divorce and paternity proceedings. Evidence can be many things including documents, your testimony, and the testimony of others with eye witness information. Experts about parenting, mental health, children, and substance abuse can all qualify to give their opinion. Investigators, parenting evaluators and guardians ad litem may all testify at various levels of expense and influence on the court.