While many states refer to child custody when discussing child-rearing and child living arrangements, Washington uses the terms "parenting plan" and "residential schedule." Families should use the state-specific language regarding parenting plans and consult with a Washington lawyer if they need assistance with filing the appropriate court forms.
The Parenting Act of 1987 is the Washington law governing many child custody issues. The act is most relevant to married parents during dissolution of marriage or legal separation, but the principles of the law also apply to unmarried parents. According to the Washington State Bar Association, the law strives above all else to preserve a child's relationship with both parents in a safe, stable and loving manner.
Under Washington law, the parenting plan establishes all aspects of the parents' custody rights and responsibilities for their child, including the child's living arrangements. The residential schedule determines where the child will reside and the times when she will live there. The parenting plan must also contain a decision-making section stating how the parents will make major decisions for the child's life and resolve conflicts.
Obtain a Parenting Plan
Parents must receive court approval for a written parenting plan to take effect. The court can make custody orders as part of an ongoing dissolution of marriage, legal separation or parentage case if one or both of the parties submits a proposed parenting plan. Parents can also file a separate petition to modify custody or petition for a parenting plan. Non-parents can request custody through a separate petition as well. The court is likely to approve jointly-submitted parenting plans, while the court may require a hearing or trial if the parents cannot agree on a parenting plan together. The court will base its decision on the best interests of the child.
When making a parenting plan order, the court must consider any potential concerns about the child's safety. For example, if one or both of the parents has perpetrated child abuse or domestic violence, the court can limit the parent's time with the child or require the parent to complete treatment, counseling or parenting classes.
Change of Parenting Plan
Washington law uses the word "modification" to describe a changed parenting plan—the state differentiates between minor and major modifications. One or both of the parents must file a modification request with the court and submit a new proposed parenting plan. If only one parent wants to change the parenting plan, the court must hold a trial. The requesting parent must first pass an "adequate cause" or "threshold" hearing by proving there is enough good reason to change the current parenting plan. The court generally only allows a major modification if the parent can show a substantial change in circumstances.