Washington law defines the Best Interest of the Child, and parenting functions in a collection of laws. This page collects them in one place. These are all from RCW 26.09, the divorce chapter, and applies to cases where people are not married and have a child, and nonparental (visitation) and minor guardianship (custody) cases. (Some of the statutes below only include the relevant information.)
RCW 26.09.002 Policy
The best interests of the child are served by a parenting arrangement that best maintains a child’s emotional growth, health and stability, and physical care. Further, the best interest of the child is ordinarily served when the [BIOTC means maintain] existing pattern of interaction between a parent and child is altered only to the extent necessitated by the changed relationship of the parents or as required to protect the child from physical, mental, or emotional harm.
RCW 26.09.004 Definitions
The definitions in this section apply throughout this chapter.
(2) “Parenting functions” means those aspects of the parent-child relationship in which the parent makes decisions and performs functions necessary for the care and growth of the child. Parenting functions include:
(a) Maintaining a loving, stable, consistent, and nurturing relationship with the child;
(b) Attending to the daily needs of the child, such as feeding, clothing, physical care and grooming, supervision, health care, and day care, and engaging in other activities which are appropriate to the developmental level of the child and that are within the social and economic circumstances of the particular family;
(c) Attending to adequate education for the child, including remedial or other education essential to the best interests of the child;
(d) Assisting the child in developing and maintaining appropriate interpersonal relationships;
(e) Exercising appropriate judgment regarding the child’s welfare, consistent with the child’s developmental level and the family’s social and economic circumstances; and
(f) Providing for the financial support of the child.
RCW 26.09.184 Permanent Parenting Plan
(1) OBJECTIVES. The objectives of the permanent parenting plan are to:
(a) Provide for the child’s physical care;
(b) Maintain the child’s emotional stability;
(c) Provide for the child’s changing needs as the child grows and matures, in a way that minimizes the need for future modifications to the permanent parenting plan;
(d) Set forth the authority and responsibilities of each parent with respect to the child, consistent with the criteria in RCW 26.09.187 and 26.09.191;
(e) Minimize the child’s exposure to harmful parental conflict;
(f) Encourage the parents, where appropriate under RCW 26.09.187 and 26.09.191, to meet their responsibilities to their minor children through agreements in the permanent parenting plan, rather than by relying on judicial intervention; and
(g) To otherwise protect the best interests of the child consistent with RCW 26.09.002.
RCW 26.09.187 Criteria for establishing permanent parenting plan.
(3) RESIDENTIAL PROVISIONS.
(a) The court shall make residential provisions for each child which encourage each parent to maintain a loving, stable, and nurturing relationship with the child, consistent with the child’s developmental level and the family’s social and economic circumstances. The child’s residential schedule shall be consistent with RCW 26.09.191. Where the limitations of RCW 26.09.191 are not dispositive of the child’s residential schedule, the court shall consider the following factors:
(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.
(b) Where the limitations of RCW 26.09.191 are not dispositive, the court may order that a child frequently alternate his or her residence between the households of the parents for brief and substantially equal intervals of time if such provision is in the best interests of the child. In determining whether such an arrangement is in the best interests of the child, the court may consider the parties geographic proximity to the extent necessary to ensure the ability to share performance of the parenting functions.
(c) For any child, residential provisions may contain any reasonable terms or conditions that facilitate the orderly and meaningful exercise of residential time by a parent, including but not limited to requirements of reasonable notice when residential time will not occur.
RCW 26.09.194 Proposed temporary parenting plan—Temporary order—Amendment—Vacation of order.
(1) A parent seeking a temporary order relating to parenting shall file and serve a proposed temporary parenting plan by motion. The other parent, if contesting the proposed temporary parenting plan, shall file and serve a responsive proposed parenting plan. Either parent may move to have a proposed temporary parenting plan entered as part of a temporary order. The parents may enter an agreed temporary parenting plan at any time as part of a temporary order. The proposed temporary parenting plan may be supported by relevant evidence and shall be accompanied by an affidavit or declaration which shall state at a minimum the following:
(a) The name, address, and length of residence with the person or persons with whom the child has lived for the preceding twelve months;
(b) The performance by each parent during the last twelve months of the parenting functions relating to the daily needs of the child;
(c) The parents’ work and child-care schedules for the preceding twelve months;
(d) The parents’ current work and child-care schedules; and
(e) Any of the circumstances set forth in RCW 26.09.191 that are likely to pose a serious risk to the child and that warrant limitation on the award to a parent of temporary residence or time with the child pending entry of a permanent parenting plan.
RCW 26.09.197 Issuance of temporary parenting plan—Criteria.
After considering the affidavit required by RCW 26.09.194(1) and other relevant evidence presented, the court shall make a temporary parenting plan that is in the best interest of the child. In making this determination, the court shall give particular consideration to:
(1) The relative strength, nature, and stability of the child’s relationship with each parent; and
(2) Which parenting arrangements will cause the least disruption to the child’s emotional stability while the action is pending.
The court shall also consider the factors used to determine residential provisions in the permanent parenting plan.
The statute which describes unfit parenting which justifies restrictions in parenting plans is RCW 26.09.191. This statute is quite complex.
Information about quality parenting resources are available here. Information about attachment theory and attachment-based parenting is available here.