Can Parental Decision-Making be Limited During a Divorce?

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Can Parental Decision-Making be Limited During a Divorce?
Written By: Josh Lowell ~ 2/21/2022

Short answer: yes. Long answer: as with everything involving Washington law, there are certain situations where limiting parental rights is appropriate. That does not mean that restricting joint decision-making for minor children is easy or possible in every case. In fact, most limitations are based on a strictly construed Washington statute. It is much less common for parental limitations to be in place for more generic reasons.

RCW 26.09.191 Restrictions

Washington’s legislature enacted RCW 26.09.191 with the hopes of providing guidance to the Courts on the issue of limiting parental rights in certain situations. The statute specifies that parental decision-making and other parenting involvement is usually limited when a Court finds the following circumstances:

  1. Domestic violence including physical and sexual assault;
  2. Child abuse or neglect; and
  3. Child abandonment.

The Courts may input parental restrictions including limited decision-making if one of the parents is found to have

  1. Long-term emotional or physical problems;
  2. Substance abuse issues;
  3. Lack of emotional ties to the child;
  4. Has previously withheld the child; and
  5. Abuses conflict.

At the outset of a case, getting a Court to grant limitations under this law tends to be rare. In most cases, the Court will “reserve” ruling on the issue for trial. In other words, they punt the matter to the trial judge instead of dealing with it on temporary orders. If there is substantial evidence, like an Order of Protection, presented, the Court may be willing to issue restrictions sooner rather than later.


Courts often find that limiting major decision-making is too big a penalty unless grievous circumstances exist. Decision-making for this issue typically includes non-emergency healthcare and education decisions. While it is possible for a Court to grand limited decision-making based upon the parties inability to work cooperatively (or other less narrowly defined areas), it requires substantial favorable evidence.

At mediation, most parties will not agree to limited decision-making. If that is an issue you are not willing to give up on, then gathering evidence for trial may be your best option. However, even without statutory limitations or more informal restrictions in place, there are ways to provide assurances to both parties that parenting efforts will be made in good faith. If you are dealing with a contentious divorce, working with an experienced family law attorney may be in your best interests. Call Magnuson Lowell PS today for a free case evaluation.


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