How to Handle Custody and Visitation During the Divorce Process

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Divorce can be a lengthy and contentious process.  But there are some issues that must be addressed as soon as a couple is separating and cannot be delayed until finalization of the divorce.  Those concerns are usually dealt with through temporary agreements and temporary court orders.  

The needs of children must continue to be met, and issues of child custody and visitation, must be dealth with immediately. A temporary Parenting Plan (the legal document governing residential schedule and decision making in Washington) regarding who can see the children and when, is essential to maintaining parent/child relationships and establishing a stable environment for all involved.

While both parties work with their attorneys to reach a final, long-term arrangement, a temporary order will set expectations, help parents to understand their duties, and create structure. A short-term plan can minimize scheduling conflicts and make everyone aware of their responsibilities. Every family’s circumstances are different. A temporary order helps manage everyone’s schedules and ensures children are getting adequate quality time with each parent.

Divorce and Visitation: Sole Custody vs. Joint Custody

When it comes to divorce and visitation, some parents file for sole custody. However, it is not frequently granted. In most cases, being with only one parent is not in the best interest of the child. If sole legal custody (decision-making authority) is awarded, the other parent usually still has residential time (visitation) with the child. Instances of sole custody designate one parent to make important decisions without the input of the other. 

Joint custody allows both parents access to their children. This is most relevant when parents are separated and living apart, regardless of whether the divorce is final.  Washington courts usually favor a joint custody arrangement, unless evidence shows that would be harmful to the children. Parents can receive joint or shared physical custody, which means they split residential time with the children. Joint legal custody, would mean both parents have the right to make decisions on behalf of the child.

How to Initiate a Temporary Order

Many custody cases are resolved without court involvement through informal negotiations. Some parents are able to set aside their differences and work together to develop a custody and visitation plan that works for their family. They’ll create a draft of their agreement, sign it, and submit it to a judge for approval.

It’s important that both parties understand the conditions expressed in the agreement and comply with the order. Once accepted, the document is a binding agreement. Any parent who violates the terms and conditions are subject to being found in contempt of court.

If a soon-to-be divorcing couple does not agree on custody and visitation terms, they will be ordered to at least attempt to work with a third party to create a parenting plan. This process is a bit more involved, as it can require mediation or a settlement conference to reach a final conclusion. This type of dispute resolution is a good option for parents who are involved in a complicated custody battle or are unwilling to work together to reach a solution. 

A parent who wishes to initiate a legal temporary ordered Parenting Plan after (or in conjunction with) filing for divorce will need to file a motion with the court showing why it’s necessary and proposing a plan. The parent must remember that the goal of a temporary agreement is to put in place a plan that prioritizes the best interest of the child until a divorce agreement can be reached. A judge will either accept your plan or create a temporary order for you to adhere to until your divorce decree establishes a permanent solution.

Temporary parenting plan orders are often the basis for the permanent parenting plan which is incorporated into the final divorce decree.  Therefore, it is important to understand that decisions you make with temporary parenting  agreements, early in your separation, are likely to influence your long-term relationship with, and access to, your children.  If you give up parental rights in your temporary parenting plan, it will be difficult to change that later and recover rights in the permanent parenting plan.  It is best to see the temporary parenting plan as a template for what the permanent parenting plan will be.   

We’ll Help You Fight for Your Rights 

We know that maintaining a relationship with your kids is essential. Many Washington state dads going through divorce face uphill battles to gain access to their own children. Divorce Lawyers for Men wants to help you fight for your rights as a father.

Contact us today for a consultation and to learn more about how we can work for you.

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