If you have a child with someone else, whether or not you are married, you will likely need a Parenting Plan in the event that you are no longer together with the child’s other parent. Even if you and the child’s other parent agree to a parenting schedule, it can sometimes be helpful to have that agreement in writing so there isn’t any confusion, and the possibility for disagreement is reduced.

What is a Parenting Plan?

A Parenting Plan is a court order that outlines which parent has decision-making (usually both), which parent is the primary parent, whether there are any restrictions on one of the parents, what the parenting schedule looks like for the entire year, and any other provisions the parties want or need to follow that aren’t already accounted for.

Where do you go to get a Parenting Plan in place in Washington?

All initial pleadings are available online at https://www.courts.wa.gov/forms/?fa=forms.static&staticID=14 and are also available for purchase at the Clark County Superior Court Clerk’s Office. If you want more information on which documents to complete, how to file, and how to serve, please take a look at this blog post by attorney Amber Rushbanks: https://navigatelawgroup.com/how-to-file-child-custody-or-parenting-plan-hearing-in-wa/.

How are Parenting Plans determined?

Both parents are given the option to propose what they would each like to see in a Temporary or Final Parenting Plan for the Court to consider. The Court will certainly review them, but Parenting Plans are governed by state laws and local county laws that the Court must follow as well. There are different laws you have to follow for entering a Temporary Parenting Plan, entering a Final Parenting Plan, and modifying either a Temporary Parenting Plan or a Final Parenting Plan.

Temporary Parenting Plan

The criteria for establishing a Temporary Parenting Plan are found under RCW 26.09.197. Essentially, the Court is looking at the relationship each parent has with the child, what parenting arrangement would cause the least disruption, and what schedule is overall in the child’s best interest. Precedent is really important at this stage, and if you are asking for a Parenting Plan that is noticeably different from what you and the child’s other parent have been doing, you must be prepared to give the Court very good reasons, ideally supported by evidence.

Final Parenting Plan

The criteria for establishing a Final Parenting Plan are found under RCW 26.09.187. There are seven factors, but the one given the greatest weight is the relationship each parent has with the child. The Court, in general, likes to state that they don’t place a lot of weight on the Temporary Parenting Plan, but the history of involvement is important and the parenting schedule established under a Temporary Parenting Plan will help establish some of that history.

Clark County Local Court Rule Recommendations

Sometimes, parents don’t have a schedule in place when they file to request a Parenting Plan, or the Court thinks what has been requested by both parents doesn’t seem to be in the child’s best interests. Each county has Local Court Rules, and Clark County, Washington, has some located here: https://clark.wa.gov/superior-court/local-rules. Within these Local Court Rules, the Court further outlines what county-specific rules need to be followed for specific court matters, and they provide recommendations for a parenting schedule. This is the default parenting schedule that the Court believes is, in general, in the best interests of most children when there are no restrictions on either parent and the parents had a traditional household arrangement (one parent was the primary breadwinner and one parent was the primary caretaker). The Clark County, Washington Local Court Rules are changing as of September 1, 2022, so please check the link for the most up-to-date recommendations.

How can you modify an existing Parenting Plan in Vancouver, Washington?

It is possible that the Court will enter a Parenting Plan that either doesn’t work for your family at all, or did work and then something changed so that it no longer works. You can request that the Court modify the Parenting Plan, but there are certain standards that will need to be met in order for the Court to consider a change.

Temporary Parenting Plan

There is no state law that governs requested changes to a Temporary Parenting Plan. However, the Court does look at the state laws for changing Final Parenting Plans when considering requested changes to a Temporary Parenting Plan if the requested change wasn’t already contemplated when the existing Temporary Parenting Plan was entered (i.e., a parent needed to complete so many steps in order to request additional time, a GAL makes recommendations for changes, etc.). There is nothing stopping the Court from considering changes to a Temporary Parenting Plan, but if nothing has changed, the existing Temporary Parenting Plan appears to be working, and there isn’t an agreement to make any changes, the Court isn’t likely going to change anything unless the requested change was already contemplated.

Final Parenting Plan

The criteria for modifying a Final Parenting Plan are found under RCW 26.09.260. There are several points under this state law governing what constitutes a minor and major modification, and what circumstances in particular would not warrant a modification, in addition to the standard for a potential modification itself. The baseline position is that the Court shall not modify a Final Parenting Plan unless there has been a substantial change in circumstances since the entry of the existing Final Parenting Plan through one of these four circumstances: 1) the parties agree to the modification, 2) the child has integrated into one of the parent’s households with the consent of the other parent in substantial deviation of the existing Final Parenting Plan, 3) the child’s current environment is a detriment to their health, or 4) a parent has been found in contempt twice in the last three years of violating a parenting provision or has been convicted of custodial interference. RCW 26.09.260.

All modification pleadings are available online at https://www.courts.wa.gov/forms/?fa=forms.static&staticID=14. They will need to be filed and served similarly to the initial pleadings mentioned above. In order for the Court to allow a modification to move forward, you must first have an adequate cause hearing. This is a hearing for the Court to determine whether you have enough evidence to proceed with the modification or if the existing Final Parenting Plan should remain in effect. If adequate cause is denied, then the modification as a whole is denied and the matter is over. There is a very high standard to modify a Final Parenting Plan, so make sure you gather as much evidence as possible so the adequate cause is granted and your matter can move forward.

Get in Touch with Our Parenting Plan Lawyers in Vancouver, Washington!

Establishing a parenting schedule that works best for your family can be difficult, especially if you and the other parent don’t agree. Things can be especially difficult if you have a Parenting Plan in place and it isn’t working or things have changed since it was entered. If you have questions about establishing or modifying a Parenting Plan, don’t hesitate to reach out to Navigate Law Group for an experienced attorney to assist you.

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Disclaimer

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.