An understandable concern you may have as a dad preparing for divorce is what the plan will be for parenting your children with your former spouse. In Washington and other states, you will negotiate and write a parenting plan that will become a legally enforceable document ordered by the court.
Guidance from an attorney is recommended in preparing your parenting plan to better ensure you understand what you are agreeing to do, and that your expectations are being met. This article provides some general information on parenting plans and explains some of the common issues these plans should address.
What Is a Parenting Plan?
A parenting plan is a court-ordered, legally enforceable document that outlines all the major parts of parenting. You may think of it as a roadmap and contract for how you and your former spouse will parent your children after divorce.
Parenting plans can be temporary or permanent. The court will likely order a temporary plan that will be in effect while you are in the process of divorce (i.e., before the divorce is finalized). A permanent plan will then go into effect once your divorce is final.
What Goes into Your Parenting Plan?
Your parenting plan should cover all the important details concerning your child’s care, except for the payment of child support. A separate order and formula created by law will determine if and how much child support you may owe or be entitled to receive. The formula considers the income levels and the number of children of the parents.
However, the main things your parenting plan will cover are:
- Your children’s primary residential placement (i.e., custodian). This is the spouse with whom your children will reside most of the time. If you and your spouse disagree about who the custodian should be, then the court will generally decide for you based on what is in the best interests of the child. Important factors to consider might be each parent’s work schedules, proximity to the children’s schooling, and the living environment each parent can provide (i.e., is it stable and is there room for the children?).
- The residential schedule for your children. The schedule will cover which spouse will be responsible for the children at all times throughout the year. This includes all weekdays, weekends, holidays, birthdays, and other school breaks. The parenting plan should also cover logistics around the residential schedule. This means transportation responsibilities, pick-up/drop-off locations, packing, and other details for successful exchanges of your children with your former spouse.
- Decision-making authority of each parent. Another aspect of your parenting plan will be the assigning of authority for important decisions concerning your children. Generally, you will be responsible for the day-to-day decisions of your children when they are in your custody. However, you will likely want your parenting plan to address issues regarding healthcare, schooling, participation in extracurricular activities, third-party visitation, and other big-picture items. In many cases, these decisions may be made jointly, but you may prefer that some decision-making authority be given to one parent over the other.
- Conflict resolution process in case of future disagreement. Your parenting plan should also outline a process for resolving any conflict that might occur while you are carrying out the parenting plan. A successful outline will identify preferred dispute resolution processes, which might be mediation, arbitration, or some other counseling. You may want to list specific agencies to use for dispute resolution. The parenting plan should also cover the preferred process for notifying the other parent of the need for conflict resolution.
Modifying Your Parenting Plan Afterwards
Creating a thoughtful and thorough parenting plan is important, because changing your parenting plan after the court finalizes it can be difficult and costly. A court will be hesitant to approve your requested changes to the plan barring evidence or other reasons showing that changes are required. Usually, changes are most likely in cases where the children’s health, safety, and well-being are truly in jeopardy.
Representation for Your Parenting Plan and Other Aspects of Your Divorce
Parenting plans are an essential part of the divorce process that will impact you and your children until they become adults. Divorce Lawyers for Men is a team of attorneys throughout the state of Washington experienced in representing and protecting the rights of dads and their children in the divorce process. Please do not hesitate to schedule a consultation with our office, should you have any questions about parenting plans or need help with other aspects of your divorce, like spousal support or the division of assets.