“I want full custody!”

“I want to go for full custody.” I always ask folks what exactly they mean by that, because what that sounds like is a parent who wants to have the children full-time, with no visitation for or input from the other parent, and I’m here to tell you that’s a highly unlikely scenario.

Parenting plans in Washington State give each parent residential time. The split of residential time varies, with everything from 50-50 schedules to 60-40 down to 90-10. Usually when people say they want “full custody” they are referring to having a split of residential time where the children are with them the majority of time. However, the other parent is almost always going to get some visitation. Sometimes that visitation is restricted in cases where a parent has issues related to domestic violence, alcohol/drugs, a mental or emotional impairment, or another situation where it may make it dangerous for the children to be around that parent. You might hear your attorney refer to “191 restrictions”: a reference to RCW 26.09.191, which can restrict a parent’s visitation based some of the above-mentioned issues.

Absent restrictions, the split of residential time becomes a question of looking at a number of factors. When the court determines a parenting plan, it looks to the criteria listed in RCW 26.09.187, specifically section 3(a):

(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.

Each parenting plan is different because each court is looking at the circumstances of each individual case. There is no one determination for “getting full custody” and as stated above, it’s unlikely that you are going to get “full custody” unless your ex-partner has a severe impairment that may restrict his/her time.

In the event that one parent does have an impairment of some kind, then the appropriate visitation may be supervised residential time. There are professional supervisors available who are available to monitor a parent during his/her residential time to make sure the interactions with the children are appropriate. If this is something you are considering, here is a good list of available supervisors in the Seattle area. Parents sometimes choose instead to pick a lay supervisor, someone who the parents trust to be a neutral third-party and monitor the visits. This can be a family member, a friend, or maybe a neighbor. With the exception of extreme cases, usually supervised visitation doesn’t last forever and if the parent with the impairment is actively working to make that impairment better (eg: going to rehab, taking batterer’s treatment classes), then oftentimes after a certain amount of time the visits become unsupervised.

The other major issue folks might be referring to is decision-making. Section IV of your parenting plan discusses decision-making. In the event that there is a .191 restriction, then sole-decision making goes the parent who is not restricted. Absent a specific restriction, then this is another decision made by the parents themselves or the court based on the factors listed in RCW 26.98.187(2)(c), namely:

(i) The existence of a limitation under RCW 26.09.191;

 (ii) The history of participation of each parent in decision making in each of the areas in RCW 26.09.184(5)(a);

 (iii) Whether the parents have a demonstrated ability and desire to cooperate with one another in decision making in each of the areas in RCW 26.09.184(5)(a); and

 (iv) The parents’ geographic proximity to one another, to the extent that it affects their ability to make timely mutual decisions.

Generally speaking, if you and your partner can agree on the provisions of a parenting plan, then you can choose a schedule that works for you. Courts love when parents are able to do this on their own, as everyone’s situation/work schedule/circumstances are different and you are the best person to know what will work best for you, not a judge. But in the event you need some assistance from the court, consider the above factors in determining how to make a successful parenting plan.

Finally, sometimes folks want full custody because they think this means they won’t have to pay child support. Please review this blog entry to dispel that myth.

For a link to obtaining a blank parenting plan, click here.