what details factor into child custody plan

What Does A Parenting Plan Include?

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After a divorce, this document lays out all of the custody, residential time, and visitation regarding your children. Because of that, it’s hugely important. It’s also important to know what it contains and, perhaps most important, what it should contain.

No two cases are ever the same. As a result, no two parenting plans will ever be identical. And under Washington law, there are no formal regulations about what a parenting plan must look like or what it must include.

That said, though there’s no official legal blueprint for parenting plans, there is a kind of informal format. Again, much of the specifics depend on the particular situation, but in general, parenting plans in Washington include and addresses the following areas.

Parenting Plans

Residential Schedule


The biggest piece of the parenting plan puzzle is the residential schedule. This lays out, in great detail, where the child lives. Most often, the child lives the bulk of the days with one parent, while he or she spends previously arranged days with the other.

How this breaks down varies, but one common pattern is the “every other weekend” formula. That oversimplifies the situation a great deal, but it gives a general idea. As the name infers, the child spends the bulk of the time with one parent but lives with the other on odd weekends. It’s also common for the weekend parent to receive shorter visits during the week. Think a movie, a dinner, or a ball game and you get the idea.

Though they get thrown around often in conversation, Washington doesn’t officially use the terms custody or visitation. Instead, parenting time is the legal designation. Despite the terminology, the parent with the most overnights is generally the one most consider the parent with “custody,” while the other gets “visitation.”

Parenting Plan And Holidays

When it comes to holidays, parenting plans tend to split them between the parents. They also usually alternate. For example, if you get your son on Christmas in even years, your ex may get him in odd years.

Your parenting plan will most likely map out who the child spends every holiday with. This includes biggies like Christmas and Thanksgiving, but also Memorial Day, Labor Day, and all the others.

School Breaks And Parenting Plans

Kids count down the days to the major school breaks, but they can be difficult for parents after divorce. Fortunately, the parenting plan should also break down where the child spends these vacations.

  • Winter: Winter breaks are often roughly two weeks long.In many cases, the parenting plan splits residential time between parents. You get your child the first week, while your ex has week two. If this is the case, again, it often alternates year to year. In this example, the next year, your ex might have the child first, while he or she finishes out the break in your home.
  • Spring/Mid-Winter: Shorter in duration, spring and mid-winter breaks usually alternate on a yearly basis.
    kids vacations
    This means, if you have residential time for spring break this year, your ex likely has it for spring break next year.
  • Summer: Because it’s so much longer, summer break differs from the other, shorter vacations. It’s usually not divided evenly between parties. In most cases, the schedule remains largely the same as during the school year, possibly with slight adjustments.

Decision Making

When a child is in your care, you have the ability to make immediate decisions. What to eat, where to go, that sort of thing.

But when it comes to major life choices:

  • education,
  • health care,
  • religion,
  • and others—the parenting plan lays out who has authority to make what verdict.

In most cases, parents have joint decision-making powers. This means they have to work together to come to a conclusion. But depending on the circumstances, the parenting plan may limit this power in certain areas or across the board. The document will also lay out the specific reasons for this.

Your Parenting Plan

As stated, Washington doesn’t have a parenting plan template. This is just a hypothetical example. That said, this often serves as a starting point. Again, each case differs from the next depending on the child’s needs and the specific details of a situation. But these are things a parenting plan should and likely will address.

There is, of course, much more. Most include accommodations for special occasions and things like Father’s Day and Mother’s Day. An allotment of vacation time usually shows up. They often also contain specific transportation details, drug and alcohol restrictions, and many other elements.

While this may be a jumping off point, things vary a great deal. Proximity has a huge impact. It’s one thing if you live in West Seattle and your ex lives in Queen Anne.

It’s something else entirely if you live in Seattle and your ex lives in Spokane. Those plans will, by necessity, look very different.

It’s also possible for parents to hash things out and come to an agreement on their own. For instance, if your family places a huge emphasis on Thanksgiving, you may be able to negotiate having your child for that holiday every year in exchange for concessions elsewhere.

In the end, however, the court must approve any deal you strike. They want to make sure a parenting plan serves the best interests of the child and doesn’t skew too heavily one way or the other. And as in most family law matters, it’s probably in your best interest to consult an attorney.

Related Reading: What to Expect from Child Custody Hearings
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