A “Normal” Parenting Plan in Washington State

What Is a Normal Parenting Plan in Washington State?—Guidance from a Divorce Attorney

–by Sam Darling

“What is a normal parenting plan?” That might be one of the most frequent questions my clients ask during initial consultations. Washington law does not state what the typical parenting plan should say. But from my experience and training, most divorce practitioners in Washington keep in mind an informal, un-codified industry standard. We frequently rely on this standard when we draft proposed parenting plans, argue in court, and review the fairness of settlement proposals. And many judges and divorce commissioners use this customary parenting plan as the starting point, or baseline, when deciding how much time each parent should receive in contested custody cases. Divorce practitioners tend to refer to this industry standard as the “every other weekend” division of residential time. The reference to “every other weekend” is a misleading oversimplification. This article provides a more detailed explanation of what the residential sections of the base-line parenting plan entail.

 

Overview of Parenting Plan’s Residential Schedule. The core of a parenting plan is the residential schedule, which outlines who has residential care of the child each day. The child has a parent with whom he or she usually lives, and the other parent receives residential care on specifically named days. In other words, the residential schedule vaguely states who has “custody”, and then only specifically spells out “visitation” with the other parent. I put quotation marks around “custody” and “visitation” because Washington State law does not acknowledge these terms, but they are the common vernacular for most non-lawyers.

Overview of Standard Residential Schedule. The customary “every other weekend” parenting plan allots visitation on every other weekend, just as the name implies. Many parents with visitation also receive a short visit during the middle of each week (commonly called a weekly “burger night”) and half the residential time during holidays and special occasions.

Specific Wording of Standard Residential Schedule. In an effort to be clear as possible, the remainder of this article contains example language for a standard “every other weekend” residential schedule. The example language completes the blank spaces in Washington’s mandatory template parenting plan, which you can find by clicking here. The mandatory template parenting plan labels the residential schedule as section 3, and template’s subsections are numbered from 3.1 to 3.8. For the reader’s ease, the example language matches the mandatory template’s numbering system.

Example Language for Standard Residential Schedule

3.1 Schedule for Children Under School Age

Prior to enrollment in school, the child(ren) shall reside with the Petitioner, except for the following days and times when the child(ren) will reside with or be with the other parent:

Every other weekend from 5 pm Friday until 5 pm Sunday, and every Wednesday from 5 pm to 8 pm.

3.2 School Schedule

Same as paragraph 3.1.

3.3 Schedule for Winter Vacation

Residential time for winter vacation shall alternate on a two-year schedule beginning with the 2014-2015 school year.

(a) First Year. On the first year of the schedule, the child(ren) shall reside with the Petitioner from the moment school lets out until the morning of December 27, at which time the child(ren) shall travel to be with the other parent for the remainder of the winter vacation.

(b) Second Year. On the second year of the schedule, the child(ren) shall reside with the Respondent from the moment school lets out until the morning of December 27, at which time the child shall travel to be with the other parent for the remainder of the winter vacation.

3.4 Schedule for Other School Breaks

Spring break shall alternate on a two-year schedule. In odd numbered years, the child(ren) shall reside with the Petitioner during spring break; and in even numbered years, with the other parent. For purposes of this provision, spring break begins when school lets out and ends the day before the child(ren) return(s) to school. The following is an example of the deadline for the end of spring break: if the child(ren) begin(s) school on a Monday, spring break ends the morning of the preceding Sunday.

Mid-winter break, if any shall also alternate on a two-year schedule. In odd numbered years, the child(ren) shall reside with the Respondent during mid-winter break; and in even numbered years, with the other parent. For purposes of this provision, mid-winter break begins when school lets out and ends the day before the child(ren) return(s) to school. The following is an example of the deadline for the end of mid-winter break: if the child(ren) begin(s) school on a Wednesday, mid-winter break ends the evening of the preceding Tuesday.

3.5 Summer Schedule

Same as school year schedule.

3.6 Vacation With Parents

Each party shall have fourteen days’ vacation with the child(ren), in two seven-day increments, which two increments may be taken consecutively. Vacations with the child(ren) shall be scheduled by notifying the other party in writing at least thirty days in advance. If both parties select the same date(s), the petitioner’s choice shall govern on even years and the respondent’s choice shall govern on odd numbered years. Neither party may remove the child(ren) from school for any vacation, unless he or she has the express written permission of the other parent.

3.7 Schedule for Holidays

New Year’s Day: with Petitioner in even years and Respondent in odd years.
Martin Luther King Day: with Petitioner in odd years and Respondent in even years.
President’s Day: with Petitioner in even years and Respondent in odd years.
Memorial Day: with Petitioner in odd years and Respondent in even years.
July 4th: with Petitioner in even years and Respondent in odd years.
Labor Day: with Petitioner in odd years and Respondent in even years.
Veterans’ Day: with Petitioner in even years and Respondent in odd years.
Thanksgiving Day: with Petitioner in odd years and Respondent in even years.
Christmas Eve: with Petitioner in even years and Respondent in odd years.
Christmas Day: with Petitioner in odd years and Respondent in even years.

3.8 Schedule for Special Occasions

With Mother every Mother’s Day and with Father every father’s day.

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