Do I really need a Parenting Plan with specific schedules?

The short answer is “Yes, presuming you have children and do not live with their other parent.”

What is a Parenting Plan?

A Parenting Plan, in Washington State, not only sets out the general schedule for the children, it also sets a precedence for the holiday schedule, how to handle matters when the parents cannot come to a decision, which decisions are to be made by both parents together and which can be made by one parent alone. Parenting Plans set out how the parents share school breaks and holidays, family holidays, family special occasions (such as birthdays), the summer and rules about vacationing with the children. You can add almost any additional provisions to the Parenting Plan, such as how often each parent may call the children while at the other parent’s house, which is very common to include.

A Plan for Parents

Image depicting father and child, thematically related to a parenting planParenting Plans provide a default solution for parents to fall back on when difficult circumstances arise.  In some circumstances, two parents can get along well enough to cooperate in the best interest of the children. They work toward the same goals and come to agreements with relative ease. However, I’ve seen those relationships fall apart, too. For parents who cannot get along so well, the parenting plan schedule can be laser specific, identifying the day and time of transfer between the parents, as well as exactly where the parents will trade off the children.

Often, when one parent has a new love interest or gets married, the new person effects the process. Often, the new person is an asset to the process. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case, and they can make things more difficult. Or, if a parent moves further way – not so far that a major change in the schedule is needed, but far enough to make the schedule you are informally following impractical.

Enter the Parenting Plan. My advice for the parents who get along and can follow an informal schedule and adjust as needed . . .  Make a plan to fall back on. Create a schedule that is fair to both parents and puts the children’s needs and interests above all else. Then, if and when the parents are finding it difficult to be agreeable, they can follow the schedule they agreed on originally.

While the state has created a required document for Parenting Plans, it leaves much to be desired. It LOOKS like a “fill-in-the-blank” form, but really needs more detail than the form implies. The form does at least help parents consider the many aspects of a child’s life needs to be considered, but does not warn you of the pitfalls of general statements.

For instance, I was in court to witness a hearing between two parents with a generalized parenting plan. The parties were amicable, at the time the parenting plan was entered with the court and at the hearing – kudos to them, but the schedule said that the teenage daughter would live with the father and could visit with the mother whenever she wanted. The parents were in court because the daughter had essentially moved in with mom. Dad wanted the daughter to return to his home, Mom was fine with the daughter staying with her. The court’s hands were tied.

The Judge could do nothing to force the daughter to go back to dad’s house or make mom send the daughter back – the daughter was visiting her mother, for an extended period of time, which was supported by the parenting plan.  Dad’s concerns could have been addressed in the beginning by being specific about how long the daughter could visit the mother at any one time and how much of her time needed to be at his own house.

“I need a Parenting Plan”

If you need a Parenting Plan, or need to modify an existing Parenting Plan, call our office at 360.471.3300.  Our staff will help you schedule a consultation with an attorney who can help guide you through the process of negotiating and implementing your Parenting Plan.  For more information about Family Law matters, visit our Family Law page. If you are a military service member or spouse, additional information about Military Family Law matters can be found on our Military Family Law page.