Custody and Parenting Plans
In 2012 there were 205 “custody” cases filed, plus 2,525 “divorces with children” filed, and 176 “modification” of parenting plan actions filed in King County, for a total of 2,996 custody cases involving a court decision on parenting. This means litigation over children is initiated on average 12 times every day the court is open.
So how does the court handle all these cases?
I often tell my clients that the court is required to look at “the good, the bad and the ugly” when it comes to custody, visitation and parenting plans.
The “good” parenting functions the court examines are described in RCW 26.09.004 and include the usual aspects of good parenting – ensuring the welfare of your child physically, emotionally, socially and academically.
The “bad” parenting is examined under RCW 26.09.191(3) and includes a longer list:
- A parent’s neglect or substantial nonperformance of parenting functions
- A long-term emotional or physical impairment which interferes with the parent’s performance of parenting functions as defined in RCW 26.09.004
- A long-term impairment resulting from drug, alcohol, or other substance abuse that interferes with the performance of parenting functions
- The absence or substantial impairment of emotional ties between the parent and the child
- The abusive use of conflict by the parent which creates the danger of serious damage to the child’s psychological development
- A parent has withheld from the other parent access to the child for a protracted period without good cause
- Such other factors or conduct as the court expressly finds adverse to the best interests of the child
If a court finds any of these exist, the court may, but is not required to, impose restrictions on that parent’s residential time and decision-making authority over the child.
The “ugly” parenting is found in RCW 26.09.191(1) and (2) and includes: domestic violence; sexual or physical abuse of a child; conviction as a registered sex offender or for custodial interference or other similar crimes, and willful abandonment of a child. If the court finds one of these, the coust MUST impose restrictions, though the court retains discretion on what those restrictions may be. Restrictions often include supervised visitation and restricted decision-making authority.
The Parenting Plan
Ultimately the court is required to approve a parenting plan, which is on a mandatory form provided by the Washington Courts. A good parent will spend serious time considering what goes into this form, as it is analagous to the “constitution” for your new parenting relationship and will have a profound impact on your children. There are a number of good resources available, which we can help you locate. In addition, our “in-house” therapist can consult with you about your children and help you design a good parenting plan that speaks to the needs of your family and goes beyond simply “filling out the form”.
We can help you design a good parenting plan and avoid problems that befall many without professional advice. Call us at 206-327-9335 for assistance and sample parenting plans and plan clauses.