Parenting Plan Ideas: A Short Version

By Judge Brian Tollefson, ret.  

Parenting Plan negotiations during dissolution and relocation proceedings can be some of the most stressful times for parents. However, not all cases involving children have issues with the parenting plan. Parents who understand how important it is to a child’s well-being that they co-operate and effectively communicate about their child’s or children’s needs generally create an agreed parenting plan and continue to work together for the remainder of the child’s minority, (i.e. a parenting plan’s life) with little or no court intervention.[1]   Yet, even the most cooperative parents may be anxious and for good reason. If the parties cannot agree, then a judge will decide their parenting plan for them.[2]

To help generally co-operative parents think about the parenting plan (which may be in addition to information the parents will receive during a mandatory parenting class that most counties require) I have put together a list of possible resources that might help lawyers and their parent-clients develop ideas for a parenting plan and avoid the trauma of court. Most of the resources mentioned here are from other jurisdictions and may capture all of the Washington statutory factors[3] in a slightly different manner. However these are just suggestions and everyone who uses these resources must remember to conform the suggestions to the requirements of Washington law.

Many of these resources are in formatted in Adobe “PDF” form, that way you can  study part of a resource while working through different parenting plan schemes.[4]

Here is the list:

Of all these resources, I like the Arizona guidebook the best. Read the resources for yourself and choose the one or ones that might help you as the lawyer work with your client to establish a workable and long-term parenting plan.

Notwithstanding, in many dissolution cases with children the biggest issue is the parents’ unwillingness to work together and form a parenting plan that is in the best interest of the children. For a variety of reasons[5] parents can’t or will not work co-operatively with each other to resolve their parenting differences without resort to expensive litigation in the courts. These cases are referred to as involving “conflicted” or “high-conflict” parents, and generally transpire regardless of the fact that the parents have attended the mandatory parenting seminar required by most county superior court rules.[6]

Some professionals involved in parenting plan issues during high conflict dissolutions suggest developing a parenting plan that involves the concept of “parallel parenting.”  Parallel parenting is often defined as “an arrangement in which divorced parents are able to co-parent by means of disengaging from each other, and having limited direct contact, in situations where they have demonstrated that they are unable to communicate with each other in a respectful manner.”[7]

The standard and required parenting plan order developed by Washington’s Administrative Office of the Courts is very adaptable to the concept of parallel parenting. In addition, here are some key features that you should consider including in a parallel parenting plan:[8]

  1. No mid-week parenting time
  2. No make-up parenting time
  3. No opportunities for additional parenting time due to the level of contact this would require between the parents.
  4. Prohibit each parent from scheduling activities for the child during the other parent’s time with the child without prior documented agreement of the “on-duty” parent.
  5. Consider including in the body of the parenting plan order  a list of unacceptable excuses for one parent denying parenting time to the other such as: (a) the child unjustifiably hesitates or refuses to go; (b) the child has a minor illness; (b) the child has to go somewhere else; (c) the child is not home; the noncustodial parent is behind in support; (d) the custodial parent does not want the child to go; (e) the weather is bad; (f) the child has no clothes to wear.
  6. Additionally, the parallel parenting plan uses some sort of non-emergency communication protocol, such as OurFamilyWizard to communicate regarding the child’s activities (e.g. education, health care, and school activities) and should help limit the need for contact between the parties via direct email or text except in case of emergency.

Additional ideas to incorporate in a parallel parenting plan can be found at a number of court websites.[9]

Brian Tollefson is the WSBA Board of Governor for the 6th District and Liaison to the TPCBA Board of Trustees.

[1] See Stahl, Philip M, Parenting After Divorce, Ch. 2 (2nd ed. (2008 Impact Publisher)
[2] Former Chief   Justice Warren Burger once cautioned the   legal profession to be mindful:  “The entire legal profession, lawyers, judges, law school teachers, has become so mesmerized with the stimulation of the courtroom contest that we tend to forget that we should be healers of conflict. For many claims, trial by adversarial contest must in time go the way of ancient trial by battle and blood. Our system is too costly, too painful, too destructive for a truly civilized people.”   Chief Justice Warren Burger, “1984 State of the Judiciary Address”
[3] These factors, found in RCW 26.09.187(3), are as follows:
(i)The relative strength, nature, and stability of the child’s relationship with each parent;
(ii)The agreements of the parties, provided they were entered into knowingly and voluntarily;
(iii) Each parent’s past and potential for future performance of parenting functions, including whether a parent has taken greater responsibility for performing parenting functions relating to the daily needs of the child;
(iv) The emotional needs and developmental level of the child;
(v) The child’s relationship with siblings and with other significant adults, as well as the child’s involvement with his or her physical surroundings, school, or other significant activities;
(vi) The wishes of the parents and the wishes of a child who is sufficiently mature to express reasoned and independent preferences as to his or her residential schedule; and
(vii) Each parent’s employment schedule, and shall make accommodations consistent with those schedules.
Factor (i) shall be given the greatest weight.”
The over-all goals of the parenting plan are found in RCW 26.09.184(1):
“(a) Provide for the child’s physical care;
(b)   Maintain the child’s emotional stability;
(c) Provide for the child’s changing needs as the child grows and matures, in a  way that minimizes the need for future modifications to the permanent  parenting plan;
(d) Set forth the authority and responsibilities of each parent with respect to the  child, consistent with the criteria in RCW 26.09.187 and 26.09.191;
(e) Minimize the child’s exposure to harmful parental conflict;
(f) Encourage the parents, where appropriate under RCW 26.09.187 and  26.09.191, to meet their responsibilities to their minor children through  agreements in the permanent parenting plan, rather than by relying on judicial  intervention; and
(g)To otherwise protect the best interests of the child consistent with RCW  26.09.002.”
The restrictions imposed on parenting plans contained in RCW 26.09.191 are beyond the scope of this very brief article.
[4] Other than Washington Law Help and Yakima County Superior Court, my research has not found many helpful resources from courts or court connected entities (except law firms)   based here in Washington.
[5] Here are some of the reasons:

    • continuation of hostility that began during the marriage
    • differing perceptions of pre-separation child-rearing roles
    • differing perceptions of post-separation child-rearing roles
    • differing perceptions of how to parent
    • concern about the adequacy of the other parent’s parenting ability
    • an unwillingness of one or both parents to accept the end of the relationship
    • jealousy about a new partner in the other parent’s life
    • contested child custody issues
    • personality factors in one or both parents that stimulate conflict.

See Stahl, fn. 2 supra,
[6] See e.g. Pierce County Local Rule for Special Proceedings 94.05
[7] Kruk, Edward;   Parallel Parenting After Divorce, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/co-parenting-after-divorce/201309/parallel-parenting-after-divorce (last viewed December 9, 2019)
[8] See footnote 2 above. See also: Dr. Stahl’s suggestions at his own website: https://parentingafterdivorce.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/ParallelParentingForHighConflictFamilies1.pdf
Some of these suggestions are adapted from the Indiana State Courts’ sample parallel parenting order:  https://www.in.gov/judiciary/rules/parenting/#_Toc470861004
[9] E.g. (1) Florida:    https://circuit8.org/parallel_parenting   (2)  Missouri: http://www.circuit7.net/documents/familycourt/b_parallel_parenting.pdf