Washington prefers “primary residential parent” to “custodial parent” and “residential schedule” to “visitation.” Whatever the words used, the result is the same and can be devastating for a parent who does not think alternate weekends from Friday after school to Sunday at 6:00 p.m. and one mid-week overnight sufficient time to be with your children. There does seem to be a growing trend to 50/50 time and increasingly more generous and liberal residential time.

“Custody” is a very loaded term and one which is often misunderstood by non-lawyers. There is “legal custody” and “primary physical custody.” Parents have “joint legal custody” unless their parental rights have been terminated, typically on the basis of unfitness. In simple terms, unless you have been stripped of their parental rights, parents have the rights, joys, privileges, and aches and pains of parenthood. Parents have the right and obligation to support their children financially, provide for their health needs, schooling, etc. “Primary residential parent” refers to the parent who, according to the Parenting Plan or Residential Schedule, have the child(ren) the majority of the time. Again, however, both parents can be designated as “primary parents,” with no preferential designation of primary parent. Speak with an experienced family law attorney to discuss what is best for you and your children.

In dissolution actions and parenting plan and child support actions, the Court looks to what is in the best interests of the child(ren), the status quo, as well as a number of other factors in order to determine the best parenting plan for your child(ren). While it may be very difficult–and assuming no abuse or areas of major concern–parents need to recognize that their children need both parents and two parents who behave.

Third-Party Custody Cases – In today’s world, birth parents are often unable to care for their children because of substance abuse or other issues which impact the ability of the birth parents to parent appropriately. Grandparents, family members, and other third-parties often file third-party custody petitions to get custody of children whose birth parents are unfit.

Visitation refers to the residential schedule or parenting plan schedule which sets out the time that the child has with the parties.