Our Child Custody Lawyers Explain What Needs to Be Considered in Your Parenting Plan

If you are contemplating a divorce and have children, your parenting plan’s value cannot be overstated. Not only will it help you maintain a stable, loving environment for your children, it will also minimize the back-and-forth arguments that can occur as you move forward with your life. Your parenting plan should ultimately represent a clear, unequivocal set of expectations concerning almost every aspect of your children’s’ lives. Finally, the parenting plan is a legally binding agreement that gives you recourse if your co-parent does not follow the plan’s terms. 

You should also understand that if you and your spouse cannot agree on a parenting plan, the court will decide for you. An experienced Seattle parenting plan lawyer can help you develop a parenting plan that is reasonable and realistic, as well as help you negotiate with your spouse. This can help diffuse some of the emotions in the situation and pave the way for a better future for your children. 

The Basic Elements Your Parenting Plan Needs to Address

First, it’s important to note that there is a standard format for parenting plans in Washington, but it can be varied or added to quite a bit. Your parenting plan should meet your children’s specific needs while also factoring in you and your spouse’s abilities to provide for your children. In general, the parenting plan should address the following topics with specificity: 

  • Custody and visitation (referred to as “residential time” in Washington state)
  • Decision-making authority
  • Holidays and school breaks
  • Access to information

That said, there may be additional areas that need to be addressed depending on your situation:

  • You and your spouse live a long distance apart; 
  • You want to enter into a 50/50 parenting arrangement;
  • Your child or one of your children is an infant or has special needs; and/or
  • There is a history of domestic abuse, or you have concerns about the safety of your children.

A Seattle child custody law firm can help you prioritize your goals and then draft a parenting plan that incorporates the specific elements your children need. 

Residential Time

One of the parenting plan’s primary purposes is to make arrangements for where and when your children will spend their time. Typically, the children will spend most of their time with one parent and then have arranged days to stay with the other parent. However, parenting arrangements where time is split 50/50 between the parents are becoming increasingly common. 

A typical arrangement is for the parent who does not have primary custody to have the children every other weekend with short visits in between. That said, you and the other parent can generally make whatever arrangements you deem practical and beneficial for your children. 

This situation becomes more complicated if you and the other parent live a long distance apart. In those situations, a common arrangement is for the children to spend the summer with one parent and perhaps another long break, while spending the school year with the other parent. 

Decision-Making Authority

Another essential element of your parenting plan is clarifying authority to make important decisions concerning your children’s upbringing. Generally this authority is exercised jointly, but there may be situations, such as when there is a history of domestic violence or controlling behaviors, where it may be appropriate to limit one parent’s authority. Also, it is good to include clarification as to exactly what constitutes major decisions, and what are merely minor decisions that can be made by the residential parent. Give some careful consideration to the following topics: 

  • Childcare
  • Education
  • Health care

Sometimes people will also want to include religious decision making, but the courts will generally allow each parent to make any religious decisions during their time with the child, and not allow one parent to make such decisions for the other.

A Seattle custody attorney can help you navigate these issues and determine what will work best for you and your children. 

Holidays and Vacations Can Be Tricky Child Custody Situations

Holidays and vacations are important times for you and your family. As a result, you should also think carefully about what holidays or vacations are most important for you to spend with your children. Christmas and Thanksgiving are the ones that people often focus on most intensely and can often be a source of much conflict when negotiating a parenting plan. However, be careful not to overlook the other holidays and school breaks, as they can add up to a significant amount of time. 

Typically, the parents will alternate holidays and then rotate custody for those holidays on alternating years. That said, you can make whatever arrangements you and your co-parent agree to. An experienced Seattle parenting plan lawyer can suggest different plans that have worked in other situations if you cannot agree. 

Sharing Access to Important Information

Another important element to your parenting plan is determining who will receive important information regarding your children. When this gets overlooked, one parent will typically feel like they are being shut out of their children’s lives. Similar to the topics related to decision-making, your parenting plan should address who is entitled to information concerning the following: 

  • School information
  • Information concerning their health care and medical records
  • Information related to their daycare or after-school care
  • Information about other important events

Deciding ahead of time who will receive information related to their child can minimize conflict and encourage a higher communication level. However, this topic should be considered in tandem with who will be responsible for making decisions to avoid inconsistencies. 

The Benefits of a Collaborative Approach in Child Custody Matters

As mentioned earlier, the court will intercede if you and your co-parent cannot agree upon a parenting plan. This means giving up your freedom to choose the parenting plan you want and potentially creating additional stress and anxiety. At Seattle Divorce Services, we prefer to take a collaborative approach focused on your children’s best interests. We help our clients get to the root of what they want and prioritize their needs while also protecting their rights. And while we are fully prepared to litigate on your behalf, we also believe that taking a collaborative approach as the first step in negotiating a parenting plan is your best chance of success. 

Contact a Seattle Parenting Plan Attorney Today

No matter how difficult your divorce may be, the custody lawyers at Seattle Divorce Services can help you get a parenting plan that protects your children and makes sense. To schedule a consultation with an experienced and compassionate Seattle parenting plan lawyer, call us at 206-784-3049 or send us an email