5 Things Divorcing Couples Should Understand About Washington Parenting Laws

If you have children and are requesting a dissolution of marriage (divorce), annulment, or legal separation in the state of Washington, a family court judge will have authority over the decisions that affect your kids’ wellbeing. Here’s what you should know about parenting laws in Washington State.

  1. The Term CustodyIs Not Used in Washington

Washington family law is based on the best interests of the children. And the term custody implies physical control and guardianship. The view of a child as an object — or as physical property to wrangle over — doesn’t necessarily take into account what’s in the best interests of the child from a developmental standpoint.

The decision of where a child lives can have profound implications for that young person. Divorce and the resulting family upheaval affect children’s:

  • Social development
  • Quality of life
  • Physical wellbeing
  • Emotional health
  • Spiritual beliefs
  • Educational and extracurricular opportunities

No matter where your child lives, separating from one of their parents is hard for most children. Washington family law recognizes the need for both parents to be as involved as possible in their children’s lives to foster a sense of connection and continuity.

  1. You and Your Estranged Spouse Can Direct the Divorce

It’s always in your best interest to hire a divorce attorney whether you’re filing for divorce or have been served with divorce papers. Family law is complicated and has intricate rules that you must follow for your kids’ sake.

However, you and your divorcing spouse need to set aside your personal disagreements to create your own plan for your child’s living arrangements. For example, if both parents live in the same school district, your child can live with each parent for a week at a time.

Some kids live with one parent most of the time and then live with the other parent on the weekends or over the summer. You and the other parent can create the best residence plan for your child based on their needs, your work schedules, and your individual living arrangements.

  1. All Parents Must Ultimately Follow a Parenting Plan

Whether or not you and your partner agree on your child’s living arrangements, a family law judge in Washington will approve what is called a parenting plan. Both parents are required to follow the plan. When you and your ex can’t agree on a parenting plan, the judge will create one for you.

A parenting plan is a legal document that includes orders involving the child’s well-being. By law, parenting plans created in Washington State must support and enable all parents to have a stable, loving, and nurturing presence in their children’s lives.

Of course, there are exceptions. For example, when a parent has committed domestic violence or is on drugs, they may not be allowed to contact their children. However, most parents should get used to the idea that their children can love both parents and be part of both parents’ lives. This attitude will help you follow the parenting plan.

Depending on the case, the parenting plan may include orders that involve:

  • Living arrangements
  • School attendance
  • Child-care arrangements
  • Counseling sessions
  • Holiday schedule
  • Travel and vacation specifics

The parenting plan also specifies who has the authority to make educational, medical, and other decisions for the child.

  1. Parenting Plans Are Enforced

Each parenting plan spells out how issues will be resolved if a parent refuses to follow the plan. Mediation and arbitration are two methods to resolve issues.

If you or the other parent break the parenting plan and refuse to let the children visit the other parent as ordered, you or your ex-spouse can be found in contempt of court. For the first contempt-of-court charge, you may be ordered to serve jail time or pay a fine. But if you violate the plan again within three years, the judge may alter your parenting plan completely.

  1. You Can Petition the Court to Relocate or Change Plans

Parenting plans can be modified when circumstances change. For example, there are special rules for parents actively serving in the military. When a military member is deployed, they may petition the court to create a temporary parenting plan while they’re away on duty.

There are also provisions found in Washington’s Relocation Act that allow a parent to request a child’s move away from the immediate area. The other parent can object to the child’s move.

A family law judge will weigh the pros and cons of any relocation before approving or denying a relocation request. One consideration that judges address is whether the separation of a child and one of their parents is more harmful than denying the move to the other parent.

Additional factors the judge considers include:

  • Reasons for the move
  • Relationship with each parent
  • Closeness to siblings and others
  • Socioeconomic benefits or losses from move
  • Prior agreements and problems

The judge will also weigh details like the age and development of your child when deciding if a relocation is in the child’s best interest. A competent family law attorney is the best person to help you draft a modification petition for a parenting plan, military deployment, or relocation.

Contact Madison Law Firm, PLLC to help you develop a parenting plan, modification, or other family-law-related documents.

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