Washington has replaced the terms “custody” and “visitation” with a single concept: parenting time. When divorcing spouses have children between them, there must be a parenting plan in place, defining with whom the children will live and how each parent will share in their rearing. The plan must cover the full range of parental involvement, including time-sharing, allocation of duties, decision-making and dispute resolution. As such, parenting plans are quite sweeping in scope and require careful consideration and drafting.
Spouses are encouraged to work out a parenting plan based on mutual consent. The first step in the process is to propose a plan that lays out a schedule of how much time the child will spend with each parent, including holidays, birthdays and other special dates. The plan also should cover how the parents will attend to the child’s religious upbringing, cultural enrichment and social activities. A wide range of items may be addressed, ranging from school transportation to athletic and musical training.
In addition, a parenting plan should set up decision-making rules and processes. For instance, who will make day-to-day decisions concerning health care or emergency medical care? Will those decisions be made jointly between the parents? Does one of the parents have limited authority with respect to such decisions? There should be a method by which the parents can discuss and resolve any disagreements that may arise, either with or without court assistance.
Sometimes, the spouses can’t or won’t come to agreement on parenting issues, and in these instances the court will order mediation or counseling. Each party proposes their own agreement and the counselor or mediator develops a compromise version that is submitted for court approval. This may be required if one parent has issues with the other parent’s demands for time due to such concerns as the child’s special needs or the distance between the parents’ homes.
If no agreement can be reached, the court will step in and order a parenting plan, based on a determination of what is in the child’s best interests. Among the factors to be considered is the need for stability and security in the child’s life, which may be promoted by a closer affiliation with one parent. Court intervention may be required, for example, in cases where one parent’s time with the child is sought to be limited or supervised due to alleged abuse, neglect or other mistreatment.
For questions about a parent’s legal rights and obligations under a Washington parenting plan, contact Bottimore & Associates, P.L.L.C. in Tacoma to schedule a consultation. Leslie R. Bottimore is a family law attorney available to resolve parenting issues for clients across Washington. Call 253-272-5653 or contact us online to schedule a consultation.