PARENTING PLANS IN WASHINGTON STATE
A Washington State parenting plan is intended to create a living arrangement that best maintains the emotional, mental and physical wellbeing of a child with parents in different households. Parenting plans vary widely and can be simple and straightforward or extremely complex and detailed. All plans must contain four components:
- Any restrictions on a parent
These are findings ruled on by the court and are typically for reasons of physical abuse, parent’s history of drug use, neglect, etc.
- The residential schedule
This is a detailed schedule of when a child’s time with each parent begins and ends on specific days of the week, holidays, birthdays and vacations.
- Decision making rights
Specifically, if parents have sole or joint decision-making rights for certain issues like religion, medical treatment, schooling, sports, etc.
- Dispute resolution
This states how the parents are to address disputes that arise after the parenting plan has been entered.
HOW IS THE PARENTING PLAN ESTABLISHED?
State law is very clear that a parenting plan should aim to provide the healthiest situation possible for the child. Typically, this means both parents have some time with the child, or they share 50-50 custody. However, there are certain situations, specifically in cases involving domestic violence or drug and alcohol abuse by one parent, where that is not an option. It is critical to note that parenting plans were never intended to be used as leverage between the parents and visitation cannot be withheld or denied if a parent is behind in child support.
There are seven primary objectives identified in the Washington State law that guide the establishment of a parenting plan. They are:
- Providing for the child’s physical care
- Caring for the child’s emotional stability
- Adapting for the child’s changing needs as they mature
- Identifying the authority and responsibilities of each parent
- Minimizing the child’s exposure to harmful parental conflict
- Spelling out the agreed upon conflict resolution process for the parents
- Protecting the best interest of the child
An experienced family law attorney can help you evaluate these objectives and draft or modify a parenting plan that is in your child’s best interest.
WHO HAS CUSTODY IF THERE IS NO PARENTING PLAN?
Good question. Technically you and your child’s other parent, so long as you are both on the birth certificate, have always shared 50-50 custody of your child regardless of how you decided to use that time. You likely didn’t have visitation issues when you were together because you worked collaboratively to cover time with your child. Once the relationship is over, however, custody may suddenly become one of the biggest daily issues you deal with.
If you believe you are the father of a child but you are not on his or her birth certificate, custody will default to the mother until a Paternity Acknowledgment form or affirmative paternity test results are filed with the state. An experienced paternity lawyer can help you establish paternity and a parenting plan. Learn more about parentage matters here.
Once you and the other parent are in different households, working together to establish a routine that works for everyone can become difficult. Working with a third party like a family law attorney or mediator to draft a parenting plan may help ease tension by keeping the focus where it belongs- on what is best for the child.
HOW DO I ENFORCE A PARENTING PLAN?
Once a parenting plan is in place, both parents have a duty to abide by it. This can be difficult for parents for many reasons. It can be hard to arrange transportation to and from school, sports, and activities as a single and/or working parent, and once children start having an opinion about one household or the other it can be tough just to get them to be where they are supposed to be and on time.
However, most courts will expect the parents to work through these issues so they can follow the parenting plan. The belief is that an agreed upon plan will minimize conflict between the parents and therefore contribute to a better environment for the child, which is generally true. Parenting plan enforcement is one of the primary reasons people continue to argue, and in some cases need to hire a family law attorney, after the divorce is final.
Here are some handy true/false beliefs about parenting plans and enforcement:
- My ex can’t bring his or her new partner to exchanges.
False. You and your partner are free to move on with your lives. If the ex’s partner has been violent or causes such tension that the exchanges are becoming unhealthy for the children, consult a parenting plan attorney to help you address that issue.
- My ex isn’t allowed to select a babysitter I have not interviewed.
False. Your ex is one half of the parenting equation and unless the parenting plan specifically limits this decision making to you, or requires joint decision making, it is generally assumed they have your child’s best interest in mind and will make a reasonable choice when hiring a babysitter.
- My ex hasn’t paid support so s/he doesn’t get visitation.
False. Late or missing child support is not something that can or should be “punished” by withholding the child. Both visitation and child support are designed to maintain the child’s best interest. A parent’s failure to pay support is something that should be addressed by the Department of Child Services or an experienced family law attorney.
- If a parenting plan is not working it can be modified.
True! The court isn’t interested in punishing parents for failing to abide by a parenting plan that simply does not work for them or the child. A modification typically requires a change in unforeseen circumstances. Because failure to comply with a parenting plan can result in financial sanctions, it is likely worth the hour consultation fee to speak with an attorney about the possibility of requesting a modification if you are having difficulty complying with your current plan.
- My ex’s house is unsafe so I don’t have to comply with the parenting plan.
True and false. If there is a genuine safety concern for the child’s immediate safety and well-being, like domestic violence, active drug and alcohol use in the home, unsecured firearms, etc., that can be brought to the court’s attention through an ex parte action. If the danger is not good but less urgent, like your ex and their new partner fight in front of your child and it is making him/her uncomfortable, you may need to comply and address that issue separately. It is always best to seek legal counsel from an experienced family law attorney before ignoring a court order.
NEED HELP WITH A WASHINGTON STATE PARENTING PLAN?
Our law firm has handled parenting plans for moms and dads in Tacoma and the surrounding communities for over a decade. Call us to learn more about how we can help you.
DISCLAIMER: The information provided above is intended to be a general discussion of common parenting plan issues, and is not intended to be taken as specific legal advice that applies to your individual fact situation. Always seek legal counsel for advice on your unique case needs.