When the parents of a minor child no longer live together, there is a need to address their relationship with the child. A parenting plan order addresses these issues. Only the superior court can create a parenting plan. While the Division of Child Support can set child support, if the parents are not living together, they do not have the ability to create a parenting plan order.
Normally a parenting plan order is one of the most important issues, for parents, in a divorce or legal separation case. Because every family situation is different, the law allows for a great deal of flexibility in creating a parenting plan. In this blog I will address the four main components of a normal parenting plan.
One of the most important components of a parenting plan is to allocate the time the child spends with each parent. Normally the child will reside the majority of the time with one parent and the parenting plan addresses the time spend with the other parent. This would include the “week to week” schedule, school holidays, vacation times and other special times (such as birthdays, etc.). In the right circumstances, especially if the parents agree, the child may spend half the time with each parent.
Limitations on Residential Time
Occasionally there is a need to address specific problems involving a parent and how those problems might affect the child (when that parent has residential time with the child). These problems would include an extreme situation, such as abuse (possibility resulting in no residential time) to a more minor situation, such as smoking around the child (with a provision in the parenting plan of not smoking when the child is present). If these issues are raised by either parent, they will have to agree on how they should be addressed in the parenting plan order, or a judge, at the trial date, will resolve them.
Decision making, regarding “major” issues affecting the child are also addressed in a parenting plan. This would include issues such as education and medical needs. While this portion of the parenting can be very general, it is not uncommon for the parents to address specific issues such as: 1) which day care provider to use, 2) getting married before the child reaches 18 or 3) if/when the child should get a tattoo or body piercing. The general rule is that major decisions should be jointly decided by the parents, but there are situations where it would be appropriate for only one parent to make the decision. This would include times when a parent is unfit for some reason (which might also affect his/her time with the child) or if the parents are just unable to communicate about major decisions.
Dispute Resolution Process
There may be times when the parents can not agree on how to resolve a disagreement in the parenting plan. This may be as a result of a decision that has to be made or a disagreement on the residential time. The dispute resolution process is designed to get the parents before a neutral person, generally a mediator, to address the disagreement. Most superior courts require the parents to use the dispute resolution process before bringing the issue back to the judge (to resolve).
While setting up a parenting plan may seem to be simple process, there are a lot of options that can make it a very complex document. It is very important that it be done right, the first time, due to the fact that it can be difficult to change once it becomes a court order. I always tell my clients that a parenting plan is kind of like a contract with the other parent. You have to anticipate any issues, before they come up, and address them in the parenting plan while it is being drafted. Like most contracts, it can be easy to change it if both parents agree, but it can be difficult to change if they do not.
This article is not intended to convey legal advice, but only address some of the general rules. Most legal issues, in family law cases, depend on the specific facts. Should you wish to discuss your particular situation with the Law Office of Thomas A. Chillquist, please call or email my office. I represent parties in family law matters in King and Pierce County, including Kent, Federal Way, Covington, Renton, SeaTac, Des Moines, Fife, Auburn, Seattle, Bellevue, Puyallup, Orting, Tacoma and Mercer Island.