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How to Create a Parenting Plan

Parenting can be a difficult yet rewarding experience. While parenting with a spouse can be easier, parenting after a divorce with spouse can be much more challenging. About half of all kids in the United States are living in households that have gone through divorce. One of the best ways to prevent problems with post-divorce parenting is with a parenting plan. Navigating the process of creating a parenting plan can be tricky and emotionally charged. An experienced family lawyer can assist you in making a parenting plan that works best for you and your children.

What is a Parenting Plan?

A parenting plan is a document that details the physical custody and visitation arrangements for children of parents who are not together. It is a permanent document that becomes part of a court order. A parenting plan gives parents direction on how to handle the physical custody and decision-making for a child until the child reaches the age 18. The plan is an extremely important document that will give parents a roadmap for custody and visitation matters with their children.

Procedure for Determining a Parenting Plan

Washington Revised Code Section 26.09.181 provides details on how a parenting plan is to be determined. Parents may submit a parenting plan that they both agree to. If parents did not work together to agree to a parenting plan, both are able to create and submit a proposed parenting plan by a designated date. If one parent does not provide a plan, the other may request that their plan be instituted by default. Parents will attend a mandatory hearing, parenting seminar, and court proceedings where they can provide details to the judge, who will make a final decision. Once the parenting plan is in place, it can only be changed through a petition to the court to modify the order.

What to Include in a Parenting Plan

The best parenting plans are those that are the most detailed. Some items must be included in a parenting plan. These include decision making, residential schedule and dispute resolution.

  • Decision Making

Parents are generally allowed to make decisions for the well-being of their children. You should include how parents will make major decisions regarding such things as education, activities and healthcare. When parents share in the decision making process, this is referred to as joint decision making. Parents may share in the decision making, and this is called joint decision-making. One parent may have sole decision making responsibilities. Shared decision-making is when each parent is responsible for making certain decisions for the child. The parenting plan should clearly state how decisions are to be made. You may also specify issues and how decisions are made in those cases.

It is important to know that decision-making in the parenting plan is designed for typical non-emergency situations. Parents still have the ability to make decisions when an emergency arises. Parents can also make basic decisions when a child is under their care.

  • Residential Schedule

The residential schedule is one of the essential parts of a parenting plan. The schedule specifies when and where a child resides. A child may live with both parents part-time or with one parent in limited situations. When a child lives with both parents, you utilize a joint residential schedule. When a child lives with one parent, you use a sole residential schedule. You must include a written schedule even if you include a calendar.

The schedule should include specific details of which parent will be responsible for the child daily. For example, a child may have visitation with the non-custodial parent every other weekend. Think ahead to how a child will be picked up from school or home and how the child will be returned. The plan should also have how weekends, vacations, and holidays will be spent.

  • Dispute Resolution

Disagreements are bound to occur at some point in the future. Parents should provide guidelines for how to handle a disagreement when it happens. Some options include counseling, arbitration, and mediation. Sometimes, parents may specify that they will take the matter to court. However, be aware that this can be a lengthy, costly, and emotionally draining resolution. A knowledgeable family law attorney will assist you in creating a parenting plan, including useful dispute resolution procedure.

Make the Parenting Plan Better

It is helpful to add family-specific clauses to the parenting plan to make it better. In addition to the required topics listed above, you will also want to consider adding more detail to the plan such as vacation planning, children’s enrollment in activities, cell phone use, etc.. Consider the many areas of concern for your child now and for the future. Include such things as how and where child exchanges will take place and provide details for how future visits will occur as the child ages and progresses. Keep in mind that a child’s needs will change over time, and try to account for them.

It is helpful to add some details regarding how to handle a potential parental relocation. Another area to include is how to make decisions when one parent cannot get a fast enough response. One essential thing to add is how parents should communicate with each other. Communication is a key element of good parenting, and regular communication will make things easier and alleviate problems.

Benefits of Creating a Good Parenting Plan

The best parenting plans provide as much detail as possible. This detail allows parents to use the plan as a roadmap throughout the years of child-rearing. You can look to the plan as a guide to follow as you continue as a parent outside of marriage. You can utilize a basic parenting plan, however, this is not ideal. A basic plan does not give you the level of detail that is necessary, especially as the years go by. A comprehensive parenting plan will help prevent disagreements and offer solutions for handling disputes if they arise.

Factors the Court Considers

The court must approve your parenting plan and will always make an order based on the best interest of the child. Some factors that the judge might look at when evaluating a parenting plan are the age of the child, health or emotional issues, the ability of the parent to provide care, the relationship of the child and parent, the location of the child’s school or activities, and whether a parent has any issues that could make parenting a challenge. In addition, the judge may take the wishes of an older child into consideration.

Parenting can be challenging in the best of circumstances, but it can be even more difficult after a divorce. A parenting plan is an ideal way to ensure that the child’s needs will be properly taken care of while giving both parents time to spend with their child. If you are going through a divorce, you can benefit from a skilled divorce attorney. Contact us today at View Ridge Law at (206) 336-9195 to schedule a consultation.

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