What is a Parenting Plan and How Can I Get One?
A "Parenting Plan" is the current legal term for a court order controlling the physical custody and parental decision making as to a child whose parents do not live together. The same rules apply to the creation, modification and enforcement of Parenting Plans regardless of whether the parents have been married.
The diversity of children’s circumstances in our society is immense. Acoordingly the legal system dealing with children's custody requires a good deal of flexibility. RCW.26.09.003. Washington law strongly favors parental arrangements, as to both residential schedule and decision making aspects, that are decided upon by the parents rather than the court. For instance, unless domestic violence is an issue, King County Superior Court Local Family Law Rule 16(a) requires parents to attempt to create their own "Parenting Plan" through mediation before they can proceed to trial. Most counties have similar local court rules. Mediation is successful in the majority of cases. When the parents reach agreement on a child's residential schedule and other needs, the agreement must be expressed in a state-mandated form (See Parenting Plan form on forms tab above) for the purpose. The Plan must then be submitted to a judicial officer who approves a Plan by signing it, after which it is permanently filed with the court clerk and thus becomes an enforceable court order the same as Parenting Plan issued by a custody trial court.
Why would I have to go through a "custody trial"?
Custody trials are required only if the parents are unable to agree on a Plan themselves and one or both parents petition(s) the court to resolve the dispute by judicial creation of a Parenting Plan. Some trial involve both parents wanting custody ("primary residential parent") without allegations of unfitness of the other parent, but most trials result from a parent alleging that some restriction on the other parent's contact with the child is necessary for the child's safety and welfare.RCW 26.09.191 and 26.09.187.
Does Washington have "joint custody"?
"Joint custody" is not a term used in Washington child custody law. Washington Parenting Plan law and mandatory use forms (see tab above) require that a child's complete future residential schedule until the child reaches 18, including school holidays and other special occasions be allocated betwen the parents. The residential schedule must be crafted in such a way as to encourage a continued bond between both parents with the child. RCW 26.09.002. The Plan must also allocate decision-making authority between the parents. Joint decision-making is favored over sole decision-making. Sole decision-making is ordered only if the court determines that it is in the child's best interests due to a history of domestic violence by a parent, or other limiting factor. RCW 26.09.191. When joint decision making is ordered, the Plan must state what means, including non-judicial means such as mediation, are to be used by the parents to help them resolve future disputes concerning the implementation of the Plan.