If you and your partner or spouse have broken up and you have a child together, chances are that you may not agree on the custody arrangement for your child(ren) at some point. If you can’t reach an agreement on how to share the kids, then you can ask the court to make a decision and get a court order that provides an enforceable parenting schedule. The first step in this process is to open your court case – either a parentage action (unmarried parents) or a divorce/legal separation action (married parents). I am not going to go into detail here about how to do the initial filings for those cases, but if you need some direction on how to open your case, here are some helpful and accurate guides (divorce or parentage) from Washington Law Help. For the remainder of this article, I am going to be discussing establishing a parenting plan in the context of a divorce (but the process is virtually identical in a parentage action).
How to Make a Request for a Temporary Court Order
Okay, once your case is opened and you have a case number assigned to you, then you can make a request to the court to get a temporary parenting plan entered that provides you with an enforceable visitation schedule. What is a temporary court order? It is an order that is put in place after a family law court action is started but before the case is finalized. I practice law in Clark County, Washington, so I am going to be speaking about some local procedures here in Clark County, but no matter where you are in Washington State the procedure should be similar. This process can be very overwhelming and complicated. The advice here is to explain how this process should go the majority of the time, however there may be unusual issues that pop up from time to time, and some variations in the way that different counties handle this process, but this blog should cover the majority of situations where you are trying to get a temporary parenting plan established. Let’s look at a 10,000-foot view of the stages of your parenting plan or divorce case so that you know where you are in this process:
Locate the Proper Legal Forms
To make the request for a temporary court order, you will need to fill out several forms, file them with the court, serve the other parent (aka provide them copies), and prepare for your oral argument hearing in front of a judicial officer (who will ultimately provide you the court order after they hear from both sides). So, to start, you will need the forms. In Washington state, there are mandatory forms to do this procedure. The forms are located either at the Clerk’s office of the Superior Court (you can purchase hard copies from them), or you can download them for free on the Washington state court’s website. Specifically, the minimum documents you will need to make a request for a temporary parenting plan are:
- Motion for Temporary Family Law Order (FL Divorce 223)
- This will include a statement at the end where you will explain what you want and why. You can also attach supporting exhibits/evidence at the end of this form to support your argument (you should reference these exhibits/evidence with your statement).
- Information for Temporary Parenting Plan (FL All Family 139)
- This is where you provide additional and specific information the court needs to know regarding the history of your parenting and coordination of your child(ren).
- Proposed Parenting Plan (FL All Family 140)
- This is your proposed parenting schedule that you are ultimately asking the court to adopt.
- Notice of Hearing (FL All Family 185)
- This is the scheduling document. This is how you request a hearing date to go before a judicial officer to make your arguments and get the court order entered.
- You should review your county’s “local rules” and/or call the Clerk’s office at the courthouse to ask them when and where you would be able to schedule your hearing.
Complete Legal Forms and Prepare for Filing
The next step is to fill out the documents listed above. If you are confused at any point or you want a professional to review the documents (highly recommended), you can get legal help from the following sources:
- Call a local attorney who practices family law in your county. You could call me (360-216-1098), or another family law attorney in the area.
- Family Court Facilitator (usually located at your local Superior Courthouse – call the Clerk and ask). They are a non-lawyer that helps to ensure you have filled out the correct paperwork.
- Call the CLEAR hotline (1-888-201-1014). This is a toll-free legal hotline for people with low incomes.
- Go to Washingtonlawhelp.org. This is free legal information and self-help materials for people in Washington state.
- Depending on the county you are in, there may be other free legal clinics that you could get advice from. In Clark County, there is the Clark County Free Virtual Legal Clinic hosted by Navigate Law Group.
What to Expect on the Day of Filing
After the documents are filled out and you have hopefully had them reviewed by a professional, you are ready to file.
You will need the original documents and then make 3 copies of each document. Take all 4 copies (the original and 3 copies) to the Clerk’s office in the Superior Courthouse.
Hand the original documents to the Clerk, and tell them that you are filing for temporary orders. They will take the original documents for you and start processing/filing them. You will need to “conform stamp” your copies of the documents. The conforming stamp is a stamp that says the date you filed and which courthouse the documents were filed at. The stamp is to be used on each of your copies to indicate to the person who receives them that you have filed exact copies of those documents on that date. You can ask the Clerk to borrow their “conforming stamp” if you don’t see it at the Clerk’s window. Take the stamp and stamp the top right-hand corner of the document copies (there is a blank space of about 3 inches above the title/caption to each document on the first page – put the stamp there).
Once each document is stamped and the Clerk processes your originals, you will take your copies and leave the Clerk’s office.
Next, you will likely need to give a copy of everything you filed to the judicial officer who will be hearing your case. In Clark County, the judicial officers have mailboxes where you leave them hard copies of everything you filed. You can ask the courthouse if you don’t know.
Serving the Other Parent After Filing Is Complete
Next, you will need to serve the other parent with another one of your copy sets. You can have the other parent personally given the documents (aka served) by someone who is not you and over the age of 18 years old (you can hire a professional process server, a friend/family, or have the Sheriff do it). Although personal service is not necessary for these documents, you can also just mail the other parent a copy if you have their mailing address (I would also shoot them a copy via email as a courtesy, although you still have to mail it).
After service is complete, whoever served the other parent needs to fill out the Proof of Service document and then it needs to get filed at the courthouse in the Clerk’s office (where you filed everything else). The Proof of Service document can also be downloaded for free on the Washington state court’s website. The full title of the document is Proof of Mailing or Hand Delivery (for documents after Summons and Petition) (FL All Family 112).
After service is complete, you will be waiting for the other parent to file their responsive materials. The other parent will have a deadline for when they are required to file their responsive material. This responsive deadline will be found in your county’s local rules (for example, here are Clark County’s local rules). In Clark County, WA the deadline for the other parent to provide you/file their responsive materials is 5 court days before the hearing. After the other parent has filed their responsive material, you may be able to file a brief reply statement (check your local court rules and timeline for when you would have to have that filed). For example, in Clark County, you are able to file a 2-page Reply statement in response to whatever the other parent said, and it is due to the court/other party no later than 3 court days before the hearing (tight turn around from when you receive the response from the other parent). In the meantime, you can be working on an outline for your oral argument during this time as well. Your argument outline will be your talking points during the hearing and should only be information points that you discussed in your written statement previously filed. I always just use bullet points and notate a few thoughts about each of your main argument points and requests. The outline helps you not forget to say anything while you are arguing during the hearing (you will likely be nervous so it’s good to have talking points in front of you to refer to). Please keep in mind the court does not want you to simply recite your documents, instead they simply want you to reiterate the highlights during your hearing.
Getting Ready for Your Court Hearing
On the day of your hearing, make sure you show up to your assigned courtroom on time with your argument outline. You should dress professionally (business casual is fine). Make sure you remain composed and professional with the court and attorneys. Do not interrupt the court when the judicial officer is talking. You will wait quietly until your matter is called by the judicial officer. Then you will wait for the court to let you know when it is your turn to argue. Both parents and/or their attorney will be provided time to argue. After both parties have argued, the judicial officer will make a decision. The decision will get written down in a court order, signed by the judge, and entered with the court as binding on both parents.
That’s it! You will then have a temporary parenting plan in place that everyone will have to follow regarding the care and custody of your child while your case is pending and heading toward final resolution. This can be very overwhelming and complicated. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you get stuck or would like your paperwork reviewed. I’d be happy to chat.
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Every legal issue is very unique. Accordingly, the information in this blog is intended as general education material and not as legal advice. If you think you may have a legal issue, you should consult an attorney.