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What are the Types of Child Custody in Washington?

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For parents of young children, going through a divorce or a separation can be especially hard. It is crucial that you understand how child custody and visitation works in Washington State. You must come to a parenting plan—either through an agreement or determined by a judge—that delineates both parenting time and decision-making authority. In this article, our Spokane child custody attorneys provide a more comprehensive guide to the different types of custody in Washington. 

An Overview of the Types of Child Custody in Washington 

If there is a custody dispute—or custody is an issue in a divorce case—Washington requires the parties to reach a “parenting plan.” A parenting plan is essentially a custody/visitation arrangement. A parenting plan can emerge as part of an agreement or it may be imposed by a court. Parenting plans in Washington should be comprehensive—addressing key matters such as child time-sharing (schedule), parental authority (decision-making), and dispute resolution. The parenting plan will address the different types of custody, including: 

  • Legal Custody: Legal custody is decision-making authority. A parent with legal custody has the right to make decisions on behalf of the child, including decisions about medical, educational, and religious matters. Parents can share legal custody or one parent may have primary legal custody. 
  • Physical Custody: Physical custody refers to where a child actually spends his or her time. Parents can be granted true shared physical custody (50/50 time-sharing). Though, that may be logistically difficult. In many cases, one parent has primary physical custody. The exact nature of child time-sharing (physical custody) is always determined on a case-by-case basis. 
  • Joint Custody: Parents with true “joint custody” have equal decision-making authority (legal custody) and equal parenting time (physical custody). In Washington, parents can have joint legal custody even if one parent has primary physical custody. 

Best Interests of the Child: Washington Favors Some Form of Shared Parenting

Washington uses the best interests of the child standard to resolve all custody and visitation matters. In a disputed custody case, a court must put an emphasis on finding a solution that is best for a child’s physical safety, emotional well-being, and social development. State policy presumes that it is best for a child to have an ongoing and positive relationship with both parents. 

RCW 26.09.002 holds that a “relationship between the child and each parent should be fostered unless inconsistent with the child’s best interests.” In other words, Washington courts will presume that some form of shared parenting is better for the child—even if one parent is awarded primary physical custody and/or primary legal custody. 

Call Our Spokane, WA Child Custody Lawyers for Immediate Help 

At Hodgson Law Office, our Spokane child custody attorneys are caring and compassionate advocates for our clients. If you have any questions about the different types of custody, we are here to help. Get in touch with us by phone or send us a direct message for a confidential review of your case. From our Spokane law office, we represent parents throughout Eastern Washington, including in Spokane Valley, Country Homes, Town and Country, Rockford, and Airway Heights. 


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Mark D. Hodgson

Mark D. Hodgson

Mark D. Hodgson and his legal team at Hodgson Law Office provide exceptional, personalized representation in family law and divorce cases. With a commitment to trust, integrity, and vigorous advocacy, Hodgson Law Office offers reliable and compassionate legal assistance for all your family law issues.

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