If you are in the process of getting a divorce, annulment, or even a legal separation, in Pierce County, King County, Snohomish County, Thurston County, Kitsap County, or any other Washington State County, then you have likely heard the term Parenting Plan. A parenting plan is a legal document that outlines the basic arrangements for the care of your children. This document includes where your children will live, who will make decisions for the child, and how parenting disputes will be resolved.
In Washington State parenting is seen as a responsibility of both parents and the parenting plans are used to best outline how each parent is to be involved in a child’s life following a change in marital/relational status. While there is no ‘one size fits all parenting plan, Washington State family Law requires the plan to be in the best interest of the child. Often, parenting plans will have the child(ren) living with one parent for much of the time, but sometimes children will live with both parents for equal amounts of time.
WHEN DO I NEED A PARENTING PLAN IN WASHINGTON?
Anytime a couple with children plans to divorce, separate, or annul, a parenting plan is required. Similarly, a parenting plan is required as part of the parenting plan modification process. Unmarried couples should have a parenting plan to navigate the times when they are unable to communicate effectively with the other parent.
HOW DOES THE COURT DECIDE WHO THE CHILDREN LIVE WITH?
Hopefully, the parenting plan is agreed on by separating parents. In these circumstances, the court will usually approve their agreement. If this is not the case, and the separating parents cannot agree on a parenting plan the court will make the decision based on what they feel to be in the best interest of the child. If there have been no serious parenting problems, the court will take things into consideration like the relationship of the child to each parent, any agreements made by the parents, the needs of the child, the child’s relationship to any siblings, involvement in school, past and future parenting potential, parent employment schedule, and if the child is mature enough, the wishes of the child.
CAN THE CHILD DECIDE WHERE THEY WANT TO LIVE?
Generally, the courts will decide where the children will live. If the child is mature enough the court may take their wishes into consideration, however, the courts generally don’t want the children involved in these decisions to avoid emotional hardship. The answer to when a child can decide is 18.
HOW DO I CHANGE A PARENTING PLAN?
While the desire to change, or modify, a parenting plan does occur. It is usually fairly difficult to find a basis to modify a parenting plan. A major modification of a parenting plan is easier if both parents agree to the change. When parents do not agree that a change should be made to the parenting plan, the court will need to find that there is adequate cause to allow the case to proceed to trial. Typically, a court commissioner will sit as the gate holder to determine if the allegations contained in the Petition to Modify will meet the legal threshold required to find the adequate cause. A major change would be switching from living with one parent the majority of the time to the other. If both parents agree and the court sees the modification to be in the best interest of the child, they will likely grant the request.
Parents can agree to minor changes to the parenting plan more easily for things like extended holidays and when the child’s time with each parent should start or end. While these changes are typically easier to make, the court will still approve or deny minor modifications based on the best interest of the child.
With no major parenting problems, an agreed-upon parenting plan is used to create a healthy lifestyle for the children of separated parents. If both parents can come to an agreement these plans can be issued in a way that is satisfactory to both parents and children. While there are many other details that can impact the outcome of your parenting plan, it is particularly important that you are aware of what is best for your child. Showing that your care in your Washington state parenting plan is based on what is best for your child will help you arrive at a plan that is best for you and your children. If you need to establish or modify a parenting plan, give us a call to discuss your options.