The biggest issue facing separating couples with children in Washington State is, or at least should be, a determination of what is in the best interests of the children. The document that outlines where and with whom the children live, and what their schedules will be with each parent, is called a Parenting Plan. A parenting plan must be filed with the court in matters where children are involved as part of the divorce process. While in theory a couple can agree as to the terms of a parenting plan, often through negotiation, it is important to remember that a parenting plan must be approved by a court even if both parents agree as to its terms. A parenting plan will be approved if it is appears to the judge that its terms are in the best interests of the children.
Parenting Plan terms
Custody versus Residential Placement
In Washington State the term “residential placement “is used rather than “custody.” Separating couples will ask the court to determine where the child’s primary residence will be and adopt a schedule accordingly. In the case of a 50/50 split of residential placement (called joint custody in other states) courts may approve such arrangements. However, from both a practical and legal standpoint these arrangements are usually conditioned on the parents sharing a history of cooperation and agreement with respect to parenting issues.
Joint decision-making powers
Parenting plans outline the types of decisions parents are faced with; educational, religious, and health care to name a few. In many cases both parents get to participate equally in these major types of decisions. Sometimes, however, there may be reasons why one parent’s decision-making powers may be limited. In cases involving substance abuse or domestic violence, or any type of issue which might impact a person’s ability to make parenting decisions, the courts may grant decision-making power to one parent alone.
While parenting plans have something of a standard format, the truth is that the parenting plan relating to your child should be unique to your situation and your child’s needs. Once a parenting plan is filed and approved it has the status of an order and cannot be changed without going back to court. Make sure that you understand the terms of your parenting plan and what it means for your child.