what does a parenting plan inlcude

What’s In A Washington State Parenting Plan?

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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.

What Is a Parenting Plan?

The court document that addresses custody matters is called a parenting plan.

These orders establish:

  • where a child lives,
  • which parent holds the decision-making authority,
  • how much time you spend together,
  • and who controls choices about education, religion, medical care, and more.

In short, if it involves custody, visitation, or childcare decisions, the parenting plan lays out the specifics. Because it defines how much involvement you have in your child’s life, these documents are massively important.

What’s In a Parenting Plan?

While there’s no official legal blueprint for child custody 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.

Residential Schedule

The biggest piece of the custody 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.”

Splitting 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.

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.

School Breaks And Vacations

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.
      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.

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: The Importance of Jurisdiction in Child Custody Cases
Related Reading: Guardian Ad Litem: What You Need to Know

From The Radio

Our founding partner, Rick Jones, makes regular appearances on the Danny Bonaduce and Sarah Morning Show. He answers listener questions and on a recent spot, one caller had this very topic on his mind. Does he need a parenting plan if he and his child’s mother never actually married?

Caller: “I’m not married, I have a 3 1/2-year-old, and if I get separated, do I need a parenting plan?”

Sarah:You are married, or you’re not married?”

Danny:He’s not married, he’s got a 3-year-old, and I looked at Rick Jones’s face, and there was an exclamation point on it, ‘yeah you need a parenting plan.'”

Rick:Absolutely, the good news is, you’ve already probably signed a [declaration of parentage*] at the hospital, so the issue isn’t that you have to prove you’re the father, but once you separate, there’s nothing put in place, no schedule put in place.

“So there’s already a presumption that the child is remaining with the mother. So what you need to do, even by agreement, is to initiate a parenting plan that says, ‘Hey, just like two divorcing people, we have to have a rule book in place.’

Danny:Right, but it’d be, but essentially the same thing. Now, is it weighted for or against somebody who’s not married or is it the exact same thing? Like, you got a 3-year-old, and you have a 3-year-old.

Rick:The exact same thing. As in, whether you’re married or not.

Danny: “Alright, you need a parenting plan buddy.”

Caller: “Is it a different court that handles it, because it’s not a divorce, because you’re not married?

Rick:There’s no such thing as ‘divorce court’. It’s all handled in the Superior court which is county-based here.”

Danny: “But if somebody just says, I wanna break up, grabs the 3-year-old, and moves to Wyoming, that’s when a lawyer will get involved for sure.

Rick: “Well, they could try to do that and then, of course, someone here in [the state] would get the case filed immediately, and I wouldn’t want to be the person that high-tailed it to Wyoming because all of a sudden their credibility is shot.

*A Declaration of Parentage is the document unmarried parents must sign that legally establishes who a child’s parents are.

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