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Family Law Terms

Updated: Sep 11, 2020

Child Custody (Custody)

The court's determination of which parent or other adult should have legal and/or physical responsibility for a minor child.

Washington State only makes a determination of "custody" for the purposes of the State and Federal laws that require such a designation (See Residential parent and non-residential parent below). Typically "custody" is awarded to the parent the child spends more overnights with in a 2 week period.


Another term for divorce.

Guardian Ad Litem (GAL)

A person appointed by the court to represent the interest of a minor child/children or an adult who is unable to handle their own affairs in the case.

Maintenance Income

A sum of money paid to one party after a legal action to assist with living expenses.

After a divorce, one party may receive maintenance income from the other party if he or she was financially dependent on the spouse during the marriage.

Non-Parental Custody / Third Party Custody

The legal process where a party who is not a parent takes custody of a minor child/children.

Non-Parent Custodian

A third party (who may be related or may not be related to the child) the child lives with under court order.

Non-Residential Parent

The parent with whom the child is not spending the night.

Parenting Plan

A child-centered plan that sets out parenting time and decision-making authority for each parent.

Residential Parent

The parent with whom the child is currently spending the night.

Residential Schedule

A child-centered plan that sets out parenting time for each parent (or non-parent custodian). The Residential Schedule does NOT include a court order about decision-making authority.

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