Following a decision to pursue a divorce, you and your spouse must consider how you will co-parent your minor children. In addition to helping your children adjust to their new reality, you must agree to a parenting plan before the court can finalize your divorce.
Working with your spouse to create an agreeable parenting plan will prevent you from going to court, where a Washington judge determines one for you.
What is a parenting plan?
Divorcing parents must jointly or separately submit a parenting plan to the court that outlines how they will share custody of their children. The plan must include the following:
- Which parent will have physical custody of the children
- Which parent will make significant decisions concerning the children
- Visitation with the non-custodial parent
- Methods for resolving differences between the parents
Before finalizing the divorce, a judge will approve or modify the parenting plan considering the children’s best interests. For example, although sharing custody is ideal, this may not be possible when the parents live far from each other, or one parent is deemed unfit.
What does the court consider when finalizing a parenting plan?
The court looks at various criteria to finalize a parenting plan. These include the children’s relationship with parents and siblings, the children’s lifestyle, each parent’s employment and the children’s wishes depending upon their emotional maturity.
Are changes to a parenting plan possible?
Although minor changes to a parenting plan usually only require agreement from both parents, significant changes require court approval. For example, a parent’s relocation or alleged misbehavior may warrant a modification.
The court expects both parents to act in the best interests of their children. Therefore, parents who do not adhere to the terms of a parenting plan risk losing custody and may face sanctions.