Washington Parenting Plans and Custody Agreements
This article covers custody agreements in Washington and gives guidelines on creating an effective parenting plan for Washington courts.
You can write up your own parenting plan (on your own or with the other parent) or you can work with an attorney or legal professional and have them create it. If you don't want to pay the high cost of an attorney, and want to easily make your own agreement, you can use the Custody X Change software.
Custody X Change is software that creates professional parenting plan documents and parenting schedules.
When creating a parenting plan in the State of Washington, it is important to be aware of the state laws regarding domestic matters.
These laws can be found in the Revised Code of Washington, Title 26, Domestic Relations.
The law contains specific information regarding the required contents of a parenting plan, the criteria the court uses to make a ruling on a parenting plan, and defines some of the terms used by the court.
When you use the law as a tool as you create your parenting plan, it will give you an advantage. It will enable you to have the resources to create a parenting plan that complies with the requirements of the law while meeting the best interests of your child.
This should increase your chances of having a successful outcome in your child custody case.
As defined in RCW 26.09.004, “parenting functions” means those aspects of the parent-child relationship in which the parent makes decisions and performs the necessary functions for taking care of the child. These functions include:
- Maintaining a loving, nurturing, stable relationship with the child.
- Attending to the child’s daily needs by providing adequate food, clothing, shelter, hygienic care, supervision, medical and dental care, and stimulating activities that are appropriate for the child’s developmental level.
- Helping the child develop and maintain appropriate interpersonal relationships with people of importance and significance in the child's life, such as siblings, relatives, and friends.
- Protecting the child and exercising appropriate judgment regarding the best interests of the child and the child’s welfare.
- Providing financial support for the child.
A parenting plan is a plan for parenting the child, and should detail and allocate parenting functions.
Yes. The State of Washington requires parents to submit a parenting plan in child custody cases (RCW 26.09.181).
If you are able to work together with the other parent and create a parenting plan, the court will review your proposed plan and if it finds it was developed in the best interests of your child, it should be approved and made into a permanent order.
If you are unable to reach an agreement with the other parent on some or all of the issues contained in the parenting plan or any other issues pertaining to your dissolution, you will be required to attend mediation in an effort to settle your disputes (RCW 26.09.015).
The mediator will assess the situation and the needs of your child, and may even interview the child, if necessary and appropriate.
The mediator will make every effort to help you reach and compromise and create an agreement. The mediator will then submit the agreed upon parenting plan to the court.
Mediation is considered inappropriate in cases involving domestic violence or child abuse (RCW 26.09.16), but can be very helpful in “normal” child custody cases.
If you attend mediation and are still unable to develop a parenting plan that you both agree on, you will be afforded the opportunity to submit your own proposed parenting plan to the court.
If your proposed parenting plan is developed in good faith and supports the best interests of your child, and the other parent fails to provide the court with a proposed parenting plan, you may ask the court to consider adopting your parenting plan, since the non-compliance of the other parent may indicate disinterest or indifference.
If you want to ensure your parenting plan will be accepted by the court, the best way to accomplish this is by working in cooperation with the other parent, however, the next best alternative is to develop and submit a proposed parenting plan that truly serves the needs of your child.
Your Washington State parenting plan should include the objectives and contents outlined in RCW 26.09.184 and should:
- Provide for the child’s physical care
- Maintain the child’s emotional stability and security
- Minimize the child’s exposure to parental conflict
- Contain a method for dispute resolution
- Delegate specific decision making authority and other parenting functions to each, either, or both parents
- Provide for the child’s needs as he or she grows, without having to modify the plan
- Establish the child’s residency
- Include a child visitation schedule that specifies when the child will spend time with each parent on a regular basis, holidays and special occasions, and for vacation time
- Contain any other provisions or stipulations the parents wish to include
Your Washington parenting plan / custody agreement must have a process for resolving disputes between the parents, other than court action.
For your dispute resolution you can include counseling, mediation, or arbitration by a specific individual or agency.
As you include information about how you and the other parent will resolve differences and conflicts, you need to know the following:
- Preference will be given to carrying out the approved parenting plan.
- The parents will use the designated dispute resolution process relating to implementation of the plan, except for in disputes about financial support, unless an emergency exists.
- A written record will be prepared of any agreement reached in counseling or mediation and of each arbitration award and will be given to each parent.
- If the court finds that a parent has used or frustrated the dispute resolution process without good reason, the court will award attorneys' fees and financial sanctions to the prevailing parent.
- The parents have the right of review from the dispute resolution process to the superior court.
Ultimately, it is the best interest and welfare of the child that the State of Washington uses when making decisions on parenting plans, child visitation schedules, and all other custody related matters.
The court considers a variety of factors when considering the child's best interests:
- The history of the child's care
- The child's relationship with each parent
- The child's adjustment to his or her home, school, and community
- Whether or not a parent is not only capable, but willing to perform parenting functions in a manner that benefits the child
- Any evidence of abuse, neglect, domestic violence, or any other parental conduct that may harm the child
- Any other relevant factors that affect the best interest and well-being of the child
The court rules according to what is best for the child. When parents are able to get along and work together to create a parenting plan that meets the best interests of the child and appropriately delegates parenting functions, it is typically accepted and approved by the court.
The top twenty cities in Washington (by population, US Census Bureau, 2008) are: Seattle, Spokane, Tacoma, Vancouver, Bellevue, Everett, Spokane Valley, Federal Way, Yakima, Kent, Bellingham, Kennewick, Renton, Lakewood, Auburn, Pasco, Shoreline, Redmond, Kirkland, Richland.