Washington Parenting Plan and Agreement Guidelines

Parenting plans define each parent's role in their child's custody. A judge signs a parenting plan to make it a legally enforceable court order.

If parents agree on a parenting plan (sometimes called a custody agreement in this situation), they can settle and submit it to the court for approval.

If they don't agree, they go to trial so a judge can decide on a plan. Each parent may submit a suggested one.

When writing a plan, you can use any format, including the Custody X Change template. If you hire a lawyer, mediator or other professional, they will help you create your plan.

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Required information

Your plan must address the following topics: decision-making, a residential schedule and dispute resolution. It cannot address child support.

Washington provides forms for divorcing parents and unmarried parents, including a parenting plan template. Many others use the Custody X Change parenting plan template, an online tool that offers guidance.


First, a plan needs to state how parents will make important choices for their child. Most commonly, these choices focus on education and non-emergency healthcare. But parents can specify other topics, like religion and extracurricular activities.

You have three options. Parents may share responsibility for major decisions (joint decision-making). Each parent may make certain decisions (limited decision-making). Or one parent may have responsibility for all major decisions (sole decision-making). Indicate in your plan which arrangement your family will use.

Regardless of the arrangement, parents can always make day-to-day or emergency decisions while caring for their child.

Residential schedule

Your residential schedule details which parent your child will live with and when.

The child can live with both parents (a joint residential schedule) or with one (a sole residential schedule). In a sole schedule, they may or may not visit the other parent.

No matter the schedule, the parent with the majority of their child's time is the primary residential parent. The other is the nonprimary residential parent. This distinction is especially important for child support.

In your plan, state the type of schedule you'll use, then explain it in full sentences. (The written description is required even if you add a visual calendar.) Use our guidelines for Washington residential schedules to make sure you don't overlook any details, and use the Custody X Change parenting plan template to automatically convert your schedule into legal language.

Dispute resolution

Parents must state how they'll handle future disagreements about decision-making and the residential schedule.

Mediation, arbitration and counseling are the most common ways to handle issues, since they help parents reach an agreement. Parents can specify a person or office they'll hire.

Alternatively, parents can state that they'll take disagreements to court, but keep in mind that litigating can cost a lot of time and money. (If parents who use mediation, arbitration or counseling don't solve their issues there, they will also go to court.)

Additional information to consider

Courts encourage parents to include as much further detail as possible. To avoid later stress and confusion, try to think of all parenting disagreements that could arise, then put provisions in your plan to prevent them.

Below are some common parenting provisions to consider. You'll find many more in the Custody X Change app.


Plans should include provisions for exchanges, explaining how and where they will take place, and how the child will get there.


Include a clause that mandates how and when you and the other parent must notify one another of a move. Also, address how far each can move without the other's consent.

Response time

State how long one parent must wait after contacting the other before they can act alone. For example: If two parents agreed to make decisions about sports together, but one doesn't reply to an email about a new karate class, how long before the other parent can sign the kids up?

Age considerations

Plans should anticipate future needs. For example, if you currently use a residential schedule for a baby, how will it change when the child is a toddler? How about when they start preschool/kindergarten and elementary school?

Parent–child communication

Decide when and how to communicate with the child when they're with the other parent. What time is too late to call on a school night? Is video calling allowed?

Factors the court will consider

The judge will only approve a parenting plan if it ensures the health, safety and welfare of your child. They will look at the following to decide if your plan is in the child's best interest:

  • Your child's age
  • Your child's health
  • Your child's relationship with each parent
  • Your child's preference (if he or she is mature enough)
  • Your child's ties to school, home and community
  • Each parent's ability to care for the child
  • Any evidence or history of drug or alcohol abuse by a parent
  • Any history of abuse committed by a parent against the other parent or a past partner
  • Any history of abuse committed by a parent against a child

More guidance

For more guidance as you create your parenting plan, see these resources:

The easiest way to make a parenting plan

When you're writing a parenting plan, it's critical you use airtight language that leaves no room for interpretation. You must also be careful not to omit any information required by the court.

If you hire a lawyer, they'll write up the plan and ensure it meets the court's requirements.

If you write your own plan, use technology to take guesswork out of the equation. The parenting plan template in the Custody X Change online app walks you through each step.

The result is a professional document that demonstrates your competence as a parent from the first glance.

The easiest and most reliable way to make a parenting plan is with Custody X Change.

Visualize your schedule. Get a written parenting plan. Calculate your parenting time.

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Explore examples of common schedules

Explore common schedules

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