Washington D.C. Parenting Plans and Custody Agreements

How do I make my D.C. parenting plan / child custody agreement?

In Washington, D.C. 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.

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How can I use the laws of the District of Columbia to make my plan?

The District of Columbia has specific laws pertaining to child custody and visitation that should be adhered to and kept in mind when creating a parenting plan in Washington, D.C.

These laws can be found in the District of Columbia Official Code, Division VIII, General Laws, Title 46, Domestic Relations, and in Division II, Judiciary and Judicial Procedure, Title 16, Particular Actions, Proceedings and Matters, Chapter 9, Divorce, Annulment, Separation, Support, etc.

The law defines the different types of custody and some of the terms used by the court, outlines the factors the court considers when ruling on custody matters, and details the provisions which may be included in a parenting plan.

When you use the law as a guide as you create your parenting plan, it should provide you with insight and an advantage in your child custody case.

What is the purpose of a parenting plan in the District of Columbia?

A parenting plan is a custody agreement made by the parents that delegates parental rights and responsibilities to each, either, or both of the parents, and will serve as the "rules" for raising the child.

In a custody proceeding in the District of Columbia, the courts may order you to submit a detailed parenting plan to the court (DC ST § 16-914.c).

What are the different types of custody in Washington, D.C.?

As you determine how you and the other parent will share in the responsibilities and child rearing obligations, you should be aware of some of the custody arrangements that Washington DC acknowledges.

Understanding this terminology can help you know how to divide or share scheduling and other parental duties. To begin with, Section a-1 has some information about legal and physical custody and how they can be awarded:

  • Legal custody pertains to the legal responsibility for the child. It includes the right to make decisions about the child's health, education, and general welfare, the right to access the child's educational, medical, psychological, dental, or other records, and the right to speak with and obtain information about the child from school officials, health care providers, counselors, or other persons involved with the child.
  • Physical custody pertains to the child's living arrangements. The term physical custody includes the child's residency or visitation schedule.
  • Sole legal custody means one parent has all of the rights concerning legal custody
  • Joint legal custody means both parents share the rights concerning legal custody.
  • Sole physical custody means the child resides with one parent and visits the other parent.
  • Joint physical custody means the child spends time living with both parents.

Your parenting plan needs to designate how you and the other parent will assign or share legal and physical custody.

What types of custody is preferred by the District of Columbia?

In Washington, D.C., there is a presumption that a joint custody arrangement is in the best interest of the child.

This means that if you want a sole custody agreement, you need to be prepared to show the court how a sole arrangement benefits the child.

The court also wants your agreement to provide frequent and continuing contact between each parent and the child and for the parents to share the responsibilities of child-rearing.

These are some points to consider as you decide between joint and sole custody and even how you want to divide joint or sole custody.

What should I include in my Washington D.C. parenting plan?

Your parenting plan may include, but is not limited to the following:

  • A designation of the residence of the child.
  • Provisions for the child's financial support.
  • A regular residential and/or visitation schedule.
  • A schedule for vacations, holidays, and special occasions.
  • Provisions for the exchange and transportation of the child between residences.
  • Provisions for the child's education.
  • Provisions for the child's religious training, if any.
  • Provisions for parental access to the child's medical, dental, and educational records.
  • Provisions for the child's scheduled medical, mental, and dental treatment decisions. Emergency decisions should be made by the parent that has the child at the time care is needed.
  • Provisions for communication between parents and between the child and each parent.
  • A method for dispute resolution to resolve conflict prior to returning to court, which may include mediation and/or counseling services.
  • Any other provisions the parents agree on and wish to include.

In Washington D.C., what does the court consider when making a ruling?

When making a custody determination, Washington, D.C. courts shall evaluate your proposed parenting plan to ensure it serves the best interest of your child (DC ST § 16-914.d).

The court may designate either or both of you as the person(s) responsible for making major decisions concerning the welfare of your child. The court may also require either or both of you to attend parenting classes.

If the court finds the mutually agreed upon parenting plan meets the requirements of the court and serves the best interest of the child, the court should make it an order. If not, the court is free to make an alternate custody order for your family (DC ST § 16-914.h).

In Washington D.C., how are "the best interests of the child" determined?

Since the best interest of the child is the ultimate determining factor and the main concern of Washington, D.C. courts in child custody cases (DC ST § 16-914.3), the court shall consider all of the factors relevant to the child's best interest and welfare, including, but not limited to:

  • The child's wishes as to a custodial preference, as long as the child is of an appropriate age and maturity level to voice an educated opinion.
  • The parents' wishes as to custody, as submitted in their parenting plan and voiced in court
  • The child's relationships with the parents, any siblings, and any other people of significance in the child's life
  • The child's adjustment to his or her home, school, and community
  • The impact changing the current situation would have on the child
  • The physical and mental health of the child and each of the parents
  • Any evidence of domestic violence, child abuse, neglect, substance abuse, or any other parental conduct that may harm the child
  • The willingness of the parents to share custody
  • The capacity of the parents to communicate effectively and reach shared decisions regarding the child's welfare and upbringing
  • The prior involvement of each parent in the child's life
  • Which parent has served as the child's primary caregiver
  • Any potential disruptions to the child's school and social life
  • The geographical proximity of the parents' homes, as it relates to the feasibility of executing a child visitation schedule
  • The demands of the parent's employment as it would affect their availability with the child
  • The age and number of children
  • The sincerity of each parent's request
  • The ability of each parent to financially support the child in a joint custody arrangement
  • The impact the custody arrangement would have on TANF and other social service programs
  • How the custody arrangement will benefit the parents

How can I make sure I am making my parenting plan appropriately?

Your Washington, D.C. parenting plan should be written in accordance to the District's laws and in a manner that provides your child with frequent and continuing contact with both parents.

It should encourage a loving and affectionate relationship between your child and each parent, and allow for the sharing of parenting responsibilities (DC ST § 16-914.2).

When you are able to work together to create a carefully considered, comprehensive parenting plan, you will create a document that is approved by the court and will serve the best interests and needs of your child as he or she grows to adulthood.

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