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Posted On December 21, 2023 Child Custody
When negotiating custody over a child, it’s important for all parties to understand the language and terminology that will be used in court, among lawyers or social workers, and in the documents that govern your arrangement. There are two distinct categories of custody: legal custody and physical custody.
While these might sound interchangeable, they’re separate aspects of your custody arrangement that must be considered separately and then blended together to arrive at an agreement that works for all parties involved.
Legal custody refers to the decision-making aspects of your child’s life. This might include schooling, medical care, religious involvement, and other choices that impact your child’s livelihood, lifestyle, and quality of life.
Physical custody refers to where the child will reside and which parent(s) will be responsible for the care of the child, over what periods, or under which circumstances.
If you and the other parent share joint legal custody, you will share the responsibility and authority around making decisions like where your child attends school or what medical care they receive and by whom. If you have sole legal custody, you have the authority to make these decisions.
If you and the other parent share joint physical custody, your child will split time between their residence and yours. This arrangement will need to be further ironed out to cover specific days, durations, and other terms of the split. If you have sole physical custody, your child lives with only you, regardless of the split in legal custody.
Now that you understand the difference between legal and physical custody, you might be wondering how Washington judges make custody decisions. Here are a few of the factors that could impact your custody decision in court:
Judges might inquire into whether parents are mentally stable and physically healthy enough to manage the child’s needs. Background history, including any crime, signs of violence, or other proof of instability, will be considered with context.
Courts want to act in favor of the children involved in any custody case. The involvement that each parent has in their child’s life and the quality of rapport, security, and support in the home will be evaluated.
Some children may need specific diets, mobility support, emotional regulation, medication administration, or other resources and support plans. Variable needs could make one parent or home a better primary fit due to access, proximity, or parent ability and availability.
The court may consider your child’s verbalized preferences when laying out your custody arrangement. If your child is a teen or pre-teen, their preferences will be weighted more heavily than younger children. However, any mature and clearly spoken child can self-advocate for their preferences.
While the child’s preference is never an open-and-shut method to close your custody case, it is important that your child feels represented and acknowledged in this decision if they are over a certain age.
If you’re just beginning your custody journey, you might want to start with the Washington State family law resources. Co-parents should try to reach an amicable, well-balanced agreement through negotiation or mediation. This helps both parties avoid larger court proceedings and protects the child from confusion.
However, if you cannot arrive at a healthy agreement with your co-parent, you may need to take your custody battle to court. From there, a Washington family court judge will review your case and help you both advocate for your child or children by arriving at the best arrangement for them.