Both parents should file a proposed parenting plan. If one party does not file a proposed plan, the party who did file can request that their plan be adopted. The proposed parenting plans must be filed by either: 30 days after filing and service of a notice for trial or 80 days after beginning the action. RCW 26.09.181
What Are the Objectives of the Parenting Plan?
The statute lists several objectives:
1) Provide for child's physical care, 2) Maintain child's emotional stability, 3) Provide for child's changing needs as s/he grows. 4) Assign authority and responsibilities of each parent, 5) Minimize child's exposure to harmful parental conflict. 6) Encourage parents to meet responsibilities through mutual agreement.
Most important of all is to Protect Best Interests of child. RCW 26.09.184(1)
What Is the Best Interests of the Child Standard?
WA Statute gives the court authority to create a parenting plan and/or residential schedule for a child. Though the statute lists factors that the court considers in making its determination, the standard is always the best interest of the child. For all questions involving the child, the court must act in the best interests of the child.
Best interests are met by a plan that maintains a child's emotional growth, health, stability and physical care. The relationship between the child and each parent should be fostered unless inconsistent which child's best interest. The existing pattern of interaction between parent and child should be altered only if necessary.
A Court can also consider child's cultural heritage and religious beliefs. RCW 26.09.187 and 26.09.191 RCW 26.09.002 for Best Interests of child Standard
What Additional Factors Can the Consider?
In addition to the best interests of the child standard, Washington Law lists several criteria that a court may use in creating a residential schedule/parenting plan. The court should make residential provisions for the child which encourage each parent to maintain a loving, stable and nurturing relationship with the child.
The most important factor is the relative strength, nature and stability of the child's relationship with each parent. The court will also look at
1) the agreement of the parents, 2) parent's ability to perform parenting functions, 3) the emotional needs and developmental level of the child. 3) child's relationship with siblings, family and friends; 4) wishes of the parents and child; 5) parent's employment schedule.
The Court can order the child to alternate his residence between parents home for brief and substantially equal time, if in best interest. The Court may consider geographic proximity. RCW 26.09.187 (3) 26.09.19 RCW26.09.004(3) RC
What factors Might Limit the Residential Time with the Child?
A parent's residential time will be limited if there was
1) a willful abandonment or a substantial refusal to perform parenting functions by a parent.
2) Child abuse, domestic violence by a parent, or convicted of certain sex offenses offenses.
A parents residential time can be also limited if it is found that a parent resides with a person who has engaged in the above conduct. RCW 26.09.191(2), RCW 26.09.191, RCW 26.09.191(2) (b)
These same factors will also limit a parents Decision Making Authority in the parenting plan. RCW 26.09.191 (1)
May the Court limit Other Provisions of a Parenting Plan?
Yes, A court may limit any provisions of the parenting plan, if it find that a parent's conduct will have an adverse effect on the child's best interests. In making this determination, the courts will see if there was,
1) neglect or substantial nonperformance of parenting functions or an emotional/physical impairment which interferes with the performing of parenting functions.
2) The absence of emotional ties between parent and the child;
3) The abusive use of conflict by the parent which might damage the child's psychological development;
4) Whether either parent has withheld from the other parent access to the child without cause. RCW 26.09.191 (3)
May I modify the Parenting Plan?
The Court may modify a prior parenting plan if it finds that a substantial change has occurred in the circumstances of the child or spouse and that the modification is necessary to serve the best interest of the child.
A Court will retain the original residential schedule unless: 1) the parents agree to the modification; 2) the child has been integrated into one household; 3) The child's present environment is substantially detrimental to his health.
The court will also modify the plan if it has found a parent in contempt of court at least twice within three years because the parent failed to comply with the residential time. A conviction of custodial interference will also constitute a substantial change of circumstances for RCW 26.09.260
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