Washington State Parenting Plans
Child Parenting Plans
Whether you are establishing a parenting plan or modifying an existing parenting plan, and whether you are unmarried or divorced, the legal system can be very challenging without the help of legal counsel.
I can help you petition the court to establish a parenting plan or modify an existing one.
What is a parenting plan?
A parenting plan is a legal document that explains the basic arrangements for caring for children, including where the children will live, who will make decisions for the children, and how disputes about the parenting arrangements will be resolved. The term “custody” is not used in Washington State. Instead, both parents usually share responsibility for their children. Typically, the children will live with one parent for the majority of time. Sometimes the children will live with each parent for equal amounts of time. The parenting arrangements depend upon what is in the best interests of the children. In Washington, the law requires that parenting arrangements encourage each parent to maintain a loving, stable, and nurturing relationship with the children, taking into account each child’s developmental level and the family’s social and economic circumstances. There is no one parenting plan that is best for all children.
When do parents need a parenting plan?
If a married couple has children together and then separates, a court orders a parenting plan as part of their divorce, legal separation, annulment, or parenting plan modification.
How does a court decide where the children will live?
Most separating parents agree on parenting arrangements for their children. If separating parents voluntarily agree on arrangements, the court will usually approve their agreement. Agreed parenting arrangements still have to be in the children’s best interests. When separating parents cannot agree, a court will make the decision. The general standard the court uses to make that decision is “the best interests of the child.” Other factors include the relationship of the child to each parent, the agreements made by the parents, the emotional and developmental needs of the child, the child’s relationships with siblings and other adults, plus the child’s involvement with places like school, past performance of parenting functions by each parent, the potential for each parent to perform parenting functions in the future, each parent’s employment schedule, the wishes of the parents and of the child if the child is mature enough, and whether there have been serious parenting problems. If there are no serious problems, the factor that is given the greatest weight by the court is the relative strength, nature, and stability of the child’s relationship with each parent.
What if there have been serious parenting problems?
If one or both parents have serious problems that affect their ability to parent, the court must consider these problems when making parenting arrangements for the children. These problems include child abuse or neglect, domestic violence, substance abuse, impairments that interfere with a parent’s ability to care for a child, withholding the child from the other parent without good cause, or abandonment of the children. Sometimes, the court has to restrict a parent’s time with the children. These restrictions can include limiting the time a parent can spend with a child, and often include requiring a treatment or educational program to help the parent with the problem. If a parent is a convicted sex offender, the court almost always has to prohibit that parent from having time with the children.
Can children decide where they want to live?
In Washington, adults decide where children will live. A court may consider a child’s wishes only if the child is old enough and mature enough. There is no magic age for a child to be mature enough to state his or her choice. Generally, courts do not want children to be involved in these decisions. (courts.wa.gov)
An acknowledged father or mother may file a petition to ask the court for a residential schedule/parenting plan or child support order four years or more after the Acknowledgment of Paternity they signed was filed with the Washington State Registrar of Vital Statistics. Either parent may also file this petition more than 60 days but less than four years after the acknowledgment was filed if the petitioning party specifically states (alleges) certain facts that are in section 5 of the petition. (courts.wa.gov)
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