So What is a Parenting Plan?

A parenting plan is a written court order, signed by a judge or commissioner, and either agreed to by the parents or decided by the court, that deals with parenting arrangements for minor children. There are many parts to a parenting plan. Some of those parts are discussed below:

1) Residential Provisions

These are the details about who the children reside with, including holidays, birthdays, summers and vacations. In 20 plus years of working with parenting plans, Glenn has lots of practical advise about how to structure the residential provisions to avoid future complications. Sometimes, particularly when there have been long absences or harm done to a parent and child’s relationship, the residential schedule is conditioned on improvement of that relationship and the amount of time a parent sees the child increases over time.

2) Limitations

In appropriate situations the parenting plan can limit a parents access or rights to the child due to abuse, neglect, and other negative behaviors. Often the court orders or the parties agree that certain rehabilitative steps or hurdles have to be accomplished before the limitation is removed. The court has broad discretion to impose restrictions, but the legislature has listed some circumstances when the court may impose limitations, including:

  • a) long-term drug, alcohol or other substance-abuse problems
  • b) a long-term emotional or physical impairment
  • c) few or no emotional ties between the child and parent
  • d) abusive use of conflict
  • e) withholding the child from the other parent without a good reason
  • f) domestic violence and other abusive behavior
  • g) sex offenses

No contact with children is permitted for persons determined to be sexual predators. The legislature in RCW 26.09.191(2)(c) states:

If a parent has been found to be a sexual predator under chapter 71.09 RCW or under an analogous statute of any other jurisdiction, the court shall restrain the parent from contact with a child that would otherwise be allowed under this chapter. If a parent resides with an adult or a juvenile who has been found to be a sexual predator under chapter 71.09 RCW or under an analogous statute of any other jurisdiction, the court shall restrain the parent from contact with the parent’s child except contact that occurs outside that person’s presence.

3) Decision Making

Glenn feels sometimes too little attention is paid to these provisions. Besides residential time with your child, isn’t making decisions about your child the most important aspect of being a parent? Often parenting plans will order the parents to have “joint decisions” but fail to explain what that means and are not clear about which decisions require “joint decision making.” A little more attention to this area can help prevent future disputes. In appropriate circumstances, a parent can be prevented from participating in decisions about the child.

4) Alternative Dispute Resolution Process

This is another section that is often given limited attention but which, if carefully drafted, can pay huge dividends. Careful drafting can help you to avoid future expense and conflict. In appropriate circumstances, the parents may be ordered not to use an alternative dispute resolution process. The Legislature provides some relevant requirements in RCW 26.09.191 which reads as follows:

(1) The permanent parenting plan shall not require mutual decision-making or designation of a dispute resolution process other than court action if it is found that a parent has engaged in any of the following conduct:

  • a) Willful abandonment that continues for an extended period of time or substantial refusal to perform parenting functions;
  • b) physical, sexual, or a pattern of emotional abuse of a child; or
  • c) a history of acts of domestic violence as defined in RCW 26.50.010(1) or an assault or sexual assault which causes grievous bodily harm or the fear of such harm.

5) Special Provisions

The scope of a parenting plan is nearly boundless. You know better than anyone else the types of problems you have had with the other parent in the past and what your children need to be safe and secure. While black and white words do not always control behaviors or change personalities, they can help provide you with enforceable language that addresses important issues, and thus hopefully diminishes bad behavior. For example, special provisions can address the following topics and many others:

  • introduction of children to new partners
  • supplying of clothes on visits
  • homework responsibilities
  • drug and alcohol treatment
  • lateness
  • future changes in parenting plan
  • interfering with other parent’s time
  • grandparent contact
  • involvement with doctors, counselors, school
  • smoking
  • tattoos
  • private school attendance
  • airplane flight arrangements
  • provisions beyond relocation
  • general principles that govern parenting and overall interests of the parents regarding their children
  • protections about use of pornography
  • gun use and hunter’s education
  • driver’s education
  • where the exchanges will occur
  • maintenance of emails
  • contact between child and parents by cell phone, emails or Skype
  • right of first refusal
  • attendance at parent teacher conferences, doctor visits and sporting events
  • notice of a parent’s absence or inability to provide direct care
  • children’s dating
  • participation in collision sports