As a parent who is going through divorce, a couple of your biggest concerns may be who your child will live with and how often you will be able to see your child. In many states a child custody award will determine where a child lives. However, in Washington, a parenting plan is used to govern how your child will spend his or her time.

Typically, parents work together to create a parenting plan that they can both agree to and then submit that plan to a judge for approval. When parents cannot agree on a plan, each parent may submit his or her own plan for consideration, and a judge will decide what parenting plan will be used.

What should be included in a parenting plan?

Every parenting plan must include a schedule for the residential care of the child. It must also describe how the responsibility for parental decision-making will be divided and how the parents plan to resolve future disputes regarding parenting decisions.

Other goals of a good parenting plan are to detail how:

  • The child’s emotional stability will be maintained
  • Changes in the child’s needs will be addressed as the child grows
  • The child’s exposure to parental conflict will be minimized

How to judges make decisions regarding parenting plans?

When determining if a parenting plan should be approved or not, a judge will always prioritize the best interests of the child over any other considerations. When considering what a child’s best interests are, a judge will usually look at the child’s emotional needs, health needs, stability needs and physical care needs.

Parents usually know best what would be in their child’s best interests, so often a judge will approve a plan that both parents have agreed to. Also, it is often in a child’s best interest to remain close with both parents and to maintain stability, so judges usually favor plans that allow the child to have time with both parents, while creating as little change as possible to the child’s current pattern of interaction with each parent.

As a parent who is going through divorce, a parenting plan is a required part of your divorce. You may have the most control over the parenting plan if you and your spouse work together on it, but the best interests of your child will be at the heart of the plan whether you and your spouse create the plan or a judge creates it.