Washington State Parenting Plans, Child Custody, and Child Visitation
Learn everything you need to know about Washington Parenting Plans
Child Custody and Child Visitation Issues are Often the Most Difficult to Settle.
Parenting Plans establish child custody and child visitation when both parents are not living in the same household. Parenting Plans are vital for effective co-parenting; however, it can be hard to reach agreement on a plan for sharing custody because every good dad, or mom, wants to spend as much time as possible with their children.
As a father, you want to know that your custody and visitation rights will be established and honored, that you will have a fair opportunity to present your case for optimal time with your children, and that, in the end, you will be able to be an active and contributing participant in your children’s lives.
In Washington Family Law,
The Parenting Plan is the Legal Document that Details and Enforces Child Custody and Child Visitation.
Washington is a fairly progressive and state law now technically favors shared or Joint Custody, except in cases where that is not warranted. Even the commonly used terminology has changed. Instead of “custodial parent” the court now refers to the parent with the most residential time as the “Primary Residential Parent.” The parent with less time, and who usually pays child support, is called the “Non-Primary Residential Parent.” In the past, the time the non-custodial parent spent with the child was called “visitation”, now it is referred to as “Parenting Time.”
The Parenting Plan is a critically important document that covers much more than just who has the children over summer break. For instance, the Parenting Plan sets out who has primary decision-making power for the child on issues such as health care, education and religious upbringing. It also controls how future disputes over your children will be resolved.
A properly written Parenting Plan will address all the important issues about a father’s rights to decision making, shared (child) custody, and parenting time (child visitation) in Washington. However, getting to the point that the Parenting Plan meets your goals takes careful consideration and often dedicated advocacy on the part of a skilled attorney. A good Parenting Plan will make co-parenting easier and minimize disputes in the future; hopefully, saving you time, money, frustration and heartache.
“Thank you DLFM for meeting with me and guiding me through the legal paperwork labyrinth that got me to such a great result and allowed me to be in my son’s life far more than every other weekend.”
– Matt F.
Table of Contents: Understanding Parenting Plans in Washington State
Feel free to jump to a section.
- Father’s Rights in Washington State
- Common Legal Terms to Understand
- Understanding the Parenting Plan
- How Child Custody is Determined
- Temporary Parenting Plans
- Understanding the Guardian ad Litem
- Child Custody for Fathers
- Child Visitation for Fathers
- How Can a Father Win Child Custody in Washington State?
Child Custody and Child Visitation Rights for Fathers
The rights and responsibilities of both parents begin at childbirth.
Whether you are married and moving toward a divorce, or you are unmarried parents, issues such as child support, child custody, and child visitation will need to be determined through the filing of a motion for a Parenting Plan and its subsequent documents.
More and more men are seeking Parenting Plans as a way of attaining child custody and increased child visitation. It is no longer a one-way street of women demanding Parenting Plans so that they can get child support. Men have parental rights that can, and should, be demanded and protected.
Every father has a right to fair child support, reasonable child visitation, and appropriate child custody rulings.
Their mother may have physically given birth to your children, but that does not give her greater rights to custody, support, or visitation.
“I never knew I had a daughter until I received a notice in the mail. Thanks to Divorce Lawyers for Men I now get to spend time with my daughter every week and watch her grow up.”
– Victor K
Many unmarried couples start toward a Parenting Plan by filing a Parentage Action in an attempt to establish the child’s father scientifically through the issuance of a paternity test.
Married couples do not, usually, need to conduct a paternity test and are able to move forward with the beginning steps of establishing a Parenting Plan.
In both married and unmarried parent separation, it is often a battle for good dads to prove that it is in the best interest of the children for the father to be awarded full custody. Retaining skillful and experienced legal representation that is well-versed in Washington State custody law is the best way to improve your odds of getting custody of your children.
To further improve your chances; avoid situations that could lead to allegations of domestic violence. It is better to keep your cool and keep your distance than to try and explain a misunderstanding to a judge.
Many men are falsely accused of domestic violence.
Steer clear of scenarios where your children’s mother could manufacture false allegations. As a man, you must be on your best behavior. Walk away from fights. Let your attorney argue your case to the judge. You will get a better result.
“I got upset and left a very angry message on my wife’s voice mail. A few days later I got a notice she was seeking a restraining order to stop me from seeing my children. Without Divorce Lawyers for Men defending me at the hearing, I don’t know if I would be able to see my kids today.”
– Sam G.
Men are also victims of domestic violence, despite the fact that it often times goes unreported.
Report all threats, acts of violence, and domestic abuse promptly to your attorney so that the misconduct can be documented appropriately.
As a good dad in Washington, you have the right to argue your case for full custody and prove that living with their father is in the best interest of your children.
Know the Terms Frequently Used to Create Parenting Plans
You will need to familiarize yourself with some standard custody terms when developing a Parenting Plan in Washington State.
These may not be the only unfamiliar words that you run into during your pursuit of child custody or fair visitation and support agreements. If you find yourself in a situation where you do not understand what you are reading or hearing, it is very important that you contact an expert to help you grasp any advanced legal concepts. Do not sign or agree to anything that you do not understand.
Knowing these common Parenting Plan definitions should give you a good foundation to start with.
• Residential Placement
The definition of Residential Placement is “Where your child will live most of the time”. Residential Placement is also commonly referred to as Primary Custody.
• Residential Schedule
The definition of the Residential Schedule is “The days, weeks, holidays, time-of-day that each parent will have Residential Care of their child(ren)”. This is the section of the Parenting Plan that visitation schedules are detailed in.
• Temporary Orders
The definition of Temporary Orders is “An order to provide stability to the family relationship during the divorce process and set-forth a temporary Residential Schedule and Child Support”. Temporary Orders often look very similar to final Decree orders and should be taken very seriously despite their misleading title.
• Parenting Plans
The definition of a Parenting Plan is “A legally binding document that spells out visitation rights, custody arrangements, and other responsibilities of each parent”. Washington State mandates the development of a Parenting Plan and applies the same guidelines to fathers regardless of whether they were married to their child(ren)’s mother or not.
• Guardian ad Litem (GAL)
The definition of Guardian ad Litem is “An individual appointed by the court to help determine the best interests of the children in a child custody case”. If no Parenting Plan can be negotiated between the mother and father of the child(ren), the court can use its discretion to award custody based on their judgement and the recommendation from a Guardian ad Litem – who has performed their own due diligence.
Understanding the Parenting Plan in Washington
If you’re a father facing divorce or separation, one of your main concerns is, most likely, when and how often you will be able to see your children.
You’re probably spending time looking at the calendar, counting days, and thinking about who will have the kids during vacations. This is important because it affects your children.
Like you, the law is concerned with determining what is in the best interest of your children. To achieve this goal, the court requires you to develop a Parenting Plan. This written document details each of the parent’s rights and obligations to the children. This is the source document that will eventually spell out your child custody and child visitation rights. When/if there is a dispute between a child’s parents regarding visitation or custody, the court will enforce the terms established in the Parenting Plan.
It is vitally important to get the Parenting Plan right the first time because it is not easy to get it changed later.
“The toughest challenge I ever faced was trying to see my kids on a regular basis after my divorce. Divorce Lawyers for Men helped my every step of the way and made sure my ex-wife followed the court orders.”
– Douglas F.
The Parenting Plan does not, however, set the child support orders.
The Washington State Legislature has adopted a statewide formula that sets child support. This formula takes into consideration the income of both parents and the number of children that they have together.
Keep in mind that this formula is only as accurate as the data that you put into it.
The net income of both parents is required to accurately calculate child support. Net income can be manipulated. You may need to consult with an experienced Family Law attorney to determine the actual net income of both parents.
Understanding Who Determines Child Custody in Washington
In a best case scenario, you and your children’s mother will decide who would provide the best living situation for the kids and develop a Parenting Plan with terms agreeable to both of you.
This may take some negotiation back-and-forth between you, your children’s mother, and your respective attorneys.
Parenting Plans are filed with the court and must be approved by a judge.
If the parties in a divorce cannot agree to a Parenting Plan, the court can step in and make those decisions for the parents.
The law requires the judge to act in the best interest of the children.
Statistically speaking, you will likely lose full custody of your children when you get divorced. In the U.S., only 18% of fathers receive full custody after a divorce. Grim statistics on custody for fathers are no new trend. This is why it is very important that you consult with an attorney that is experienced in fighting for, and winning, cases where father’s rights are being disregarded.
Custody decisions can happen very quickly. Once the petition is filed, there will be a hearing where the judge will issue a series of Temporary Orders – granting Temporary Custody, instituting a Temporary Parenting Plan, and making Temporary Support Orders and financial arrangements until the final Decree is entered.
If you want the best chance to win custody of your children, you need to start planning before you file the petition for divorce.
What many men do not realize is that the final custody order and Parenting Plan will likely be modeled after your Temporary Orders.
If you did not win custody in the Temporary Orders, the burden will be on you to prove that you would provide a better permanent home for your children than their mother. In order to maintain consistency for the children, the court is usually reluctant to change the Parenting Plan at a later time.
“All I ever wanted was to come home at the end of the day and spend time with my children. Watching them grow up is the most important part of my life right now. Thank you Divorce Lawyers for Men for making this possible.”
– Stephen W.
Parenting Plans are all too often an uphill battle against antiquated laws that do not respect equal parenting rights for men. Collaborating with a Family Law firm that is experienced in representing men in child custody cases will allow you to lay the groundwork that will increase your chances of getting your desired outcome.
Understanding Temporary Parenting Plans in Washington
During the divorce process, Temporary Parenting Plans may be approved by the court.
When the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage (divorce) is filed, the court will hold a hearing to issue a Temporary Parenting Plan.
Unfortunately, this is the step from which some fathers never recover.
Especially when they show up without an attorney.
The Temporary Parenting Plan is issued with little to no investigation, and prior to a Guardian ad Litem being appointed. It is important for the father to carefully plan the steps leading up to, and following, separation to avoid a crippling Temporary Parenting Plan. The Temporary Parenting Plan will set the tone that the court will follow up until the final Parenting Plan is in place.
You may be tempted to think that Temporary Orders are not that important since they only last until the divorce is final. This is a common and dangerous misunderstanding. A hearing on the Temporary Orders may be the only time during the divorce that a certain issue is argued. The terms of the Temporary Orders often become permanent as a part of the final Decree of Dissolution of Marriage issued by the court.
Dig Deeper: The Washington Divorce Process
Ultimately, all parties are working towards the final Parenting Plan. The Parenting Plan is a binding court order. It governs child custody and child visitation until the children reach the age of 18.
In order to maintain consistency for the children, the court is usually reluctant to change the Parenting Plan at a later time.
Since it is difficult to change a Parenting Plan after it is final, it is important to make sure the final Parenting Plan is something you can live with for many years to come.
Understanding the Role of the GAL in Parenting Plans
During the divorce proceedings the court may appoint a Guardian ad Litem (GAL).
The GAL’s role is to provide a neutral and unbiased report to the court concerning the best interests of the children involved.
The GAL will interview the parents, interview the children, perform home visits, and run background checks.
The GAL prepares a report and delivers it to the court. The report will help the parents in negotiating an agreement, or the judge reaching a decision.
The Parenting Plan will declare which parent is to be awarded primary custody (residential care) of the children, and the visitation awarded to the other parent, or the details of the arrangement for joint custody.
Understanding Child Custody for Men in Washington
Problem for Men in Child Custody Cases:
Your children’s mother wants full custody of your kids.
For fathers going through a divorce or separation, one of the greatest challenges is fighting for the right to have your children live with you.
Sadly, outdated notions still stipulate in the Washington State Family Court system that children should live with their mother. Fathers asking for full custody (referred to as “residential placement” by the court) face the unspoken presumption that the children will be living with their mother.
Divorce Lawyers for Men’s Solution:
At Divorce Lawyers for Men, we reject all presumptions about where the children should live. We hold the court to the standard set by Washington State law. The court has a duty to rule in the “best interest of the children”. We work tirelessly to show the court the best interest of the children is served by living with their father. Working a full-time job does not inhibit a father from having custody of his children. We have been winning child custody for fathers since the 1980’s and we can help you, too.
Child Custody is a common term that refers to the issues of both Physical Custody and Legal Custody – as well as Visitation Schedules.
While custody determines which parent has the children on which day(s), it also covers important issues about who has authority to make decisions for the children. All of the details and specifics about child custody and visitation are detailed in the Parenting Plan.
Physical Custody for Fathers
Physical Custody is the determination of who the children will live with the majority of the time.
Washington State family law uses the term “Residential Placement” to designate the children’s primary residence.
The “Residential Schedule” then maps out any visitation, detailing the specific periods, days, and times that each parent has the children.
All of the specifics of Child Custody are spelled out within the final Parenting Plan.
Legal Custody for Fathers
While Physical Custody determines which parent the children will live with and the visitation schedule, Legal Custody sets forth who is authorized to make decisions regarding the children.
You, no doubt, want to be involved in all of the major decisions regarding your children. Even though, as parents, you are no longer married or together with your children’s mother, there are many decisions about their health, education, and welfare that will need to be made. The Parenting Plan will specify who has the Legal Custody to make these decisions.
In many cases, both parents are able to agree to fully share the responsibility to make major decisions.
In some cases, however, the court may limit one parent’s Legal Custody.
Issues involving substance abuse or domestic violence could result in one parent losing the right to make decisions for the children.
Child Custody for Unmarried Dads
Getting married is not a prerequisite to being awarded custody of your children in Washington State.
Either parent can seek to establish a Parenting Plan with the court. Child Custody for unmarried fathers is a growing issue for men in Washington. Unmarried dads have the same rights to their children as married dads do.
Understanding Child Visitation for Men in Washington
Problem for Men in Child Visitation Cases:
Your children’s mother isn’t going to let your see your kids often enough.
Your children’s mother only wants you to have limited visitation with your children.
She wants to keep the kids most of the time, leaving you with only one or two weekends a month. Her attorneys have cited several reasons why this is in the best interest of the children and you don’t know how to respond in a manner that will help your case.
This is a common complaint that we hear from good dads going through child custody cases in Washington.
Once a father allows himself to be bullied into approving a plan like this, he will have limited contact with his children for years to come, with limited recourse to change the Parenting Plan later.
Both you, and your children, suffer when this happens.
Divorce Lawyers for Men’s Solution:
We feel that there is nothing more important than a father’s relationship with his children. You should never accept an unfair level of visitation. During your child custody case, a Parenting Plan needs to be approved by both sides, and by the court. We will negotiate hard to make sure that you have time with your kids. We have the experience to protect your rights as a father.
If you have already signed a Parenting Plan and you are living with an unfair visitation schedule, we will go to court and file to have the Parenting Plan modified.
For too many good dads in Washington State, visitation is the only amount of time that they get to spend with their children. And it’s very limited.
Men should not be forced into lopsided battles for the right, as a father, to see their children. At Divorce Lawyers for Men, we make it our business to fight for the rights of good dads in Washington, and allow them to spend more time with their sons and daughters.
Maintaining your relationship with your children is crucial. Even if problems arise with your current visitation schedule, make every visitation that you are scheduled to make. Strictly follow any court orders. Be courteous to your children’s mother. Let your children know you love them and show them how important they are to you.
If it is perceived that you have shown a disinterest in your children, or attempted to antagonize your children’s mother, it will hurt your chances for gaining, maintaining, or increasing your child visitation rights in the future.
Temporary Child Visitation for Fathers
Temporary Child Visitation is established with the other Temporary Orders and should be taken just as seriously.
It is important to establish the child visitation schedule that you want early on. If you and your children’s mother can both agree on child visitation, you should start following the agreed upon visitation schedule immediately. A consistent pattern of cooperation benefits the children and helps you in court. Deciding upon the details of visitation early will stop problems from popping up later.
If an agreement cannot be reached easily, it is important that you do not give up too much, too early, in the hopes for a better result when you get to the final Decree.
The court will often use Temporary Orders as a basis for the final Parenting Plan. Trust an experienced Family Law attorney to negotiate the terms of visitation and fight for your rights as a father.
It is important that you carefully plan your current and future child visitation needs and desires before the Temporary Orders go into effect.
As with child custody, the Temporary Child Visitation Order can set the tone for your final Child Visitation Schedule.
Child Visitation Schedules for Fathers
The State of Washington would like to see the parents agree on a schedule outlining when each parent will have visitation rights to the children.
This schedule of visitation is included in the Parenting Plan and enforced as an Order of the Court.
Visitation schedules are often detailed and specific. It is not enough to say that children will spend every other weekend, or half of the time, with one parent.
The Child Visitation Schedule Includes:
- Specific times when the children will be picked up and dropped off
- Which parent will provide the transportation
- Who will have visitation on which holiday or birthday
- How special circumstances or events are handled
Even though you are no longer with your children’s mother, you will continue to have special events in your life, and the lives of your children, that you will want to have clear visitation rights for.
The ability to attend special school plays, sporting events, award ceremonies, weddings, and family gatherings needs to be taken into consideration when determining the schedule of visitation.
An experienced Family Law attorney will be able to assist you in drafting this very detailed document and negotiating a fair agreement between you and your children’s mother.
7 Steps Washington Dads Can Take to Fight for Custody of their Children
The question gets asked often; “Can a father win custody in Washington?”
And the answer is; “Yes, a father can win custody in Washington.”
However, it is mothers who are most often awarded primary custody of the children.
In the past, women were nearly always given full custody and many judges find it difficult to change their ways.
The court is tasked with deciding which parent would provide the living situation that is in “the best interest of the children”. At Divorce Lawyers for Men, we are experts at demonstrating the value of a father’s daily guidance and highlighting the benefits that your home may afford your children.
There is a heavy burden of proof on you as the father. Even so, a well presented case with solid facts will prevail.
It will be an uphill battle if you want to win primary custody, or even 50/50 split custody, of your children. But it can be done by playing a no-errors ballgame.
How to Fight for Custody of Your Children:
1. Do Not Leave Your Children Behind
Stay in the home with your children or take them with you when you go.
The court will look at what occurred in the past, and at what is occurring presently, when ruling on what will occur in the future.
2. Work to Establish Favorable Temporary Orders
Implementing Temporary Orders that provide you with the degree of custody that you want for the long-term is a great win.
Temporary Orders tend to become the groundwork for permanent Decrees. Judges do not like to change the status quo if they are able to avoid it. Establishing your desired end-result in the Temporary Custody Orders will allow you to work from a position of advantage instead of attempting to claw back to square 1.
3. Be a Great Dad
You have to be the better parent.
You need to put your children first at all times. The kids have to be your top priority – beyond a shadow of a doubt.
You should be spending time with your children, providing for all of their needs, taking them to school or to the bus stop, to their doctors appointments, to their baseball games, practices, and other extracurricular activities.
Establish that you are, in real life, everything that you propose to tell the court that you will be.
4. Do Not Fight with Your Children’s Mother
As a father, you need to be a quality role model.
You should be taking the high-road and setting a positive example.
In court, you will be relying on others to testify that you are a great parent, so demonstrating undeniable poise in public settings with your children’s mother could go a long way.
In addition to setting a good example for your children and encouraging positive feedback from your peers, any allegations of domestic violence could completely devastate your chances at getting custody of your children.
Your conduct should be beyond reproach.
5. Build a Strong Bond with Your Children
The court will seek to maintain stability and continuity in your children’s lives.
To achieve this, the court must decide who can best care for, and communicate with, the children on a daily basis.
The court considers which parent can best meet the emotional and physical needs of the children throughout the separation, divorce process, and post-divorce life.
6. Make Every Day Count
You cannot be an on-again / off-again dad and expect to get primary custody of your children.
You need to be active in every aspect of your kid’s lives. Anything short of a sincere effort will be quickly identified by a family court Judge and undermine your efforts toward getting custody.
7. Develop a Support Network
Reach out to people who support you and your goals.
Know of, and communicate with, your children’s teachers, sports coaches, health care providers, daycare providers, and babysitters.
Have child care plans in place for if/when one of your kids gets sick, you have to go on a business trip, or there is another schedule conflict.
Establish a close group of people that you can speak with regarding your emotional needs. Gather those who are willing to speak to your qualities as a father in a written statement to the court.
And, lastly, carefully select a competent legal team to help you understand your rights and obligations, and assist you in attaining your goals for custody and visitation of your children.
Custody Battles for Men in Washington are Not Easy
Faced with resistance and disagreement from the other side, some fathers may be tempted to give in and just accept less in order to complete the Parenting Plan.
Debating child custody and child visitation with your ex-wife is just one of the emotionally draining events that can happen during a divorce. You may reason that it is better to give in than to let the court decide for you.
You can always change things later, right? Wrong!
You should never feel that you have to give up your rights as a father just to “get it over with”.
At Divorce Lawyers For Men, we never accept the outdated notion that dads deserve less custody or visitation.
The Parenting Plan will be in effect for many years, it needs to support your rights as a father and your continued involvement in your child’s life.
We offer a 30-minute Consultation if you need Custody or Visitation help. We get the Results that Men Want, and Need! Contact Us Now for Top-Tier Representation in Your Washington Child Custody and Visitation Case.