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Co-Parenting in Washington State: How it Works

Custody and Visitation

Custody and Visitation are the most important and commonly discussed issues in co-parenting. Washington Revised Code RCW 26.09.002 outlines the state’s definition of legal custody and physical custody from the perspective of a child’s best interests. It states legal custody generally entails decision-making authority regarding a child’s education, religion and general welfare. Physical custody entails, the physical possession of a child and establishment of a home for them. In Washington joint custody is the most common and it can be expressed as joint legal custody and joint physical custody. Joint legal custody means that the parents are expected to collaborate on decisions that affect their minor children. This can include decisions about education, religion and general welfare. Joint physical custody involves cooperatively assigning periods of physical custody to both parents. These periods are often expressed as a percentage or fraction of joint physical custody each parent will have. It is important to note that this does not determine the amount of child support one parent will pay or receive.


Parenting Plans

Washington law requires that all divorced or separated parents create and submit a parenting plan to the court. Parenting plans are legally binding documents that establish a child’s residence, schedule and parental rights and responsibilities. This can include not only legal and physical custody, but also visitation and holiday schedules, rights and obligations for school functions, medical decisions, extracurricular activities, and more. Parenting plans should also list any special provisions such as no smoking or drinking around the child, restrictions on internet access, firearms, and more. RCW 26.09.191 requires that all parenting plans include a dispute resolution procedure. This is usually in the form of a voluntary or court-mandated mediation, which is intended to provide an informal process to facilitate communication and help the parents come to an agreement.


Child Support

Child support is the portion of the family’s resources that is devoted to providing for the needs of the minor children. Washington Revised Code RCW 26.19.020 determines that when parents live apart, the custodial parent recognizes the presumption of child support from the non-custodial parent. Child support is based on a standard child support schedule within the RCW and is determined by the court depending on each parent’s income and ability to pay, the amount of custody and visitation each parent has, and other related issues.


Co-Parenting Expenses

When co-parents are ordered to share custody of their children, there may be additional costs involved with raising the children. Co-parenting expenses, such as tuition, childcare, sports activities, medical bills and other specific expenses related to the children, can be agreed upon and ordered by the court or through a private agreement between the parties. RCW 26.09.180 states that if the parents cannot agree on which expenses to split, the court is authorized to make the determination. The court typically requires that each parent pay their share of the expense in proportion to their respective incomes, unless the expense relates to the health and well-being of their child.



When co-parents are unable to agree on a parenting plan or child support, the court will usually order mediation in order to create an amicable solution. Under RCW 26.09.455, an experienced third-party mediator will meet with each party separately and attempt to help them reach an agreement that is in the best interests of their children. Mediation is a confidential process during which the mediator will attempt to facilitate communication between the parents and help them come to an agreement. Mediation is voluntary and often allows the parents to work out their own solutions in a communicative atmosphere, as opposed to a courtroom environment.


Parental Rights

All parents have the right to be involved in decisions that affect their children. However, the degree of parental involvement and decision-making power is affected by the type of custody arrangement. Washington law recognizes that both parents deserve to be involved in their children’s lives, and that decisions should always be made in their children’s best interests. It is important that co-parents clearly identify each parent’s rights and obligations in their child support agreement, parenting plan, or settlement agreement. This ensures that both parents agree on the roles and responsibilities, which in turn increases parenting consistency and stability for their children.



Co-parenting in Washington is a complex and challenging situation, but there are laws in place to help parents navigate this dynamic. This blog has explored various legalities of co-parenting in Washington, including custody, visitation rights, parenting plans, child support, co-parenting expenses and more. By understanding these legal principles, co-parents can work together to create a parenting plan that is in the best interests of their children. Ultimately, that is the goal of the Washington legal system and what it strives to help families accomplish.


Fact Check and Sources

In writing this post, we conducted thorough fact-checking and research, consulting the following sources:


Co-parenting in USA


Co-parenting in Canada


Warning:  This post is neither financial, health, legal, or personal advice nor a substitute for the advice offered by a professional. These are serious matters, and the help of a professional is recommended as it can impact your future.

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