If your dissolution of marriage or legal separation involves minor children, you will be required to enter into a Parenting Plan pursuant to Washington State law. This document contains important rules and requirements that will affect your life and your child’s life for many years. Therefore, it is extremely important to have an experienced family law lawyer representing you during this time.
What is a Parenting Plan?
Washington Revised Code Section 26.09.181 defines a parenting plan as a document that establishes the physical placement of children when parents separate. Without agreement, negotiating a parenting plan can be complex, emotional, and expensive in many ways.
Who Gets To Choose?
Many parents have a common misconception that a child can choose where they live with once they are 12 years old. Under Washington State law, this is not true. A minor child (one who has not reached their 18th birthday) has no right to choose where they live.
If the parents can agree on physical placement, the court will usually approve that agreement since the court presumes the parents know what is best for their child. If the parents cannot agree, the family law judge will decide.
If the judge decides, he or she must consider certain factors including:
- Any parental limitations which will negatively impact the child or impair the parent’s ability to care for the child. Evidence about a parent’s fault or misconduct which is otherwise not relevant can be considered here
- Instances of willful abandonment for an extended time
- Proof of child abuse, whether physical, sexual, or mental
- History of domestic violence
- Whether a parent has been convicted of a statutorily defined sex offense as an adult
- Evidence of neglect or substantial failure to performance parenting duties
- A long term impairment resulting from alcohol, drug or other substance abuse that interferes with a parent’s ability to perform parenting functions
- Lack of emotional ties between a parent and a child
- A parent using conflict to create serious damage to the child’s psychological development
- Whether a parent has withheld access to the child from the other parent for a long time without good cause; or
- Other factors or conduct which the court finds harmful to the best interests of the child.
The court’s overall goal is to create living arrangements for each child that encourages both parents to maintain a loving, stable, and nurturing relationship with the child.
Additional Factors the Court Will Consider
Since the residential placement of a child is such an important decision, the court is also required to consider these additional issues:
- The relative strength, nature, and stability of the child’s relationship with each parent (this is the most important factor of these additional issues and is given the greatest weight by the court);
- Agreements of the parties, provided they were entered into knowingly and voluntarily;
- Each parent’s past and potential for future performance of parenting functions as defined by Washington State law, including whether a parent has taken greater responsibility for daily parenting duties;
- The emotional needs and developmental level of the child;
- The child’s relationship with other family members including siblings, as well as the how the child has integrated into his neighborhood, school, or extra-curricular activities;
- The parents’ and the child’s wishes as to the child’s living arrangements and schedule (keeping in mind that the child cannot choose outright, but his opinion may be considered); and
- Each parent’s employment schedule.
Washington State law requires all separating parents to attend a mandatory online parenting class. Also, all residential custodial parents must submit to a criminal background check.
Who Represents the Children?
In contested custody cases, the court may appoint a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) who is an independent third party to represent the interests of the children. The GAL performs an investigation of the family and presents a report along with a recommendation for a parenting plan.
Preparing or disputing a parenting plan is a complicated process. It takes a skilled family law lawyer and an experienced child custody attorney who understands the statutory factors to create a parenting plan that protects your child and your parental rights.
With more than 40 years of experience as a child custody attorney, Gregory L. Davies knows what it takes to create a strong parenting plan. Let Attorney Davies be your advocate through this process to protect your child’s best interests and your rights.
Call us now at (425) 259-2755 or complete our simple form to set up a free initial consultation. Let’s discuss your child’s situation and determine the best strategy to protect both of you. We also offer virtual meetings if you prefer.