It can feel overwhelming going through a divorce when you have children. There are so many things to consider that it can be tough to know where to start.
If you have children under age 18 and are getting divorced in Washington State, you will need a parenting plan. You can think of a parenting plan like a roadmap: it should lay out where your children will live and how you and the other parent are going to make major child-related decisions. A parenting plan can also include important details unique to your family situation, such as special holidays that you celebrate and any safeguards that should be put in place to protect your children.
During the divorce proceedings, you and the other parent can either agree on a temporary parenting plan or you can ask the court to order one. A temporary parenting plan ends when a final parenting plan is established in your divorce case. A final parenting plan is intended to last until your child turns age 18. Depending on how old your children are, you may have to live with the final parenting plan for many years.
Parents sometimes assume that a final parenting plan can be easily changed later as your children get older, but this is not necessarily the case. Absent agreement or a few special exceptions, there is a strong presumption under the law that it is in children’s best interest not to change (‘modify’) final parenting plans. With that in mind, it is important to think through issues that may come up in the future before finalizing the final parenting plan. Here are a few to consider:
- How you will communicate with your children when they are in the other parent’s home. When your child is young, this can be an easy issue to overlook since communication may be limited because of your child’s age. But as your child grows older, you may want to have a video call or know they can contact you when they are in the other parent’s home. If the communication parameters are not already spelled out in your parenting plan, this could become an issue that causes conflict between you and the other parent as time goes by. Better to figure this out before finalizing the parenting plan so everyone is on the same page.
- How you and the other parent will communicate. Another type of communication to consider defining in the parenting plan is how you and the other parent will communicate about child-related issues. Some co-parents are comfortable with using phone calls and text messages, but it can be easy to miss phone calls or to know whether the other parent received your message. There are co-parent apps available for this purpose which can be downloaded on your phone to help you track your communications with the other parent. But if you and the other parent do not agree on how you will communicate before the final parenting plan is signed, then you may be stuck receiving whatever format of communication the other parent wants to use.
- Exchanging Updated Contact Information. Under the law, there are very specific times when a parent has to provide the other parent their new address and contact information. Otherwise, a parent is not required to provide updated contact information to the other parent. So long as there are no safety issues to consider as to the other parent knowing your contact information, it is a good idea to make it clear in the final parenting plant that either parent will update the other with their address, email address and phone number whenever it changes.
- Super specific details in the parenting can be a recipe for disaster. Some parents assume that if a detailed parenting plan is good, a very detailed parenting plan must be even better. There is no doubt that details are necessary for the parenting plan; for example, you should include what time the transfer between homes will take place and which parent will transport the children. These kinds of details set everyone up for success. On the other hand, if you start to include specific details about when your child must get a haircut or who will bake the birthday cake, this can lead to frustration and unnecessary conflict down the road. Best to leave those kinds of details out.