–by Sam Darling
As a divorce attorney in Washington State, clients often ask me about the Transportation Arrangements section of their proposed parenting plan. Section 3.11 of the Washington mandatory form Parenting Plan simply states “Transportation arrangements for the child(ren), between parents shall be as follows:”, and then leaves a blank space for clients and attorneys to fill in. Unlike most other parts of Washington’s mandatory forms, this section of the parenting plan form gives no guidance on what to write in the blank space. This informal article provides an explanation of what Washington divorce attorneys usually write and why.
By way of further background, the transportation arrangements section of the parenting plan establishes parameters for the child exchange between parents. That is, the parenting plan section in question details how the child(ren) go from one parent’s residential care to the other parent’s, and back again, for routine parent-child exchanges, such as when the child(ren) visit the other parent for the weekend.
Nearly all Washington divorce attorneys will write in one of two forms of transportation arrangements, depending on the facts of the case. The first and most common arrangement is that the “receiving parent shall arrange transportation.” The vast majority of parenting plans contain some version of this language. The second, and less common arrangement, is that the parties meet for the child exchange at a neutral location, such as a coffee shop, grocery store, or gas station halfway between the parties’ homes.
1. The Number One Choice—The Receiving Parent Shall Arrange Transportation. The first of the choices—the “receiving parent shall arrange transportation”—has become the most common for practical reasons. It simply works best. Many parents wonder, “why would that work better than the other options?” To answer that question, we should go through the other options and explain why they tend to be more problematic.
The primary alternative is for the parties to each meet at a neutral location for the child exchange, usually someplace halfway between each parent’s home. Meeting at neutral locations presents a couple issues when a party runs late for the exchange. Namely, a) the waiting party ends up twiddling his or her thumbs at the neutral location as opposed to the comfort of his or her home, and b) the receiving parent has no choice but to wait until the other parent shows up if the receiving parent wants to see his or her child(ren). In some cases, this leads to the receiving parent waiting for the other parent for hours. Most of us would hate to wait that long at some gas station, especially if we have someplace else we need to be. And it becomes infuriating knowing the party dropping off the child(ren) has effectively held us hostage: we must keep waiting for him or her or we not see our kid(s) that day.
Having the receiving parent arrange transportation mitigates these waiting issues. When the receiving parent arranges transportation, he or she usually does not wait at all for the other parent, because he or she can pick up the child(ren) directly from the child(ren)’s location—from school, the other parent’s home, or daycare. Granted, the other parent might end up waiting a bit for the receiving parent, but at least the waiting usually takes place in the comfort of the party’s home rather than that gas station at the midway point. And most importantly, if the receiving parent fails to arrive within a reasonable period of time, the other parent can simply leave with the child(ren), forcing the receiving party to pay for his or her tardiness by catching up with the other parent and the child(ren) wherever they happen to go.
A third and seldom-used option—having the “dropping-off” parent arrange transportation—creates a waiting issue similar to the neutral midpoint option. The receiving party might be able to wait in the comfort of his or her home, but he or she nonetheless becomes hostage to the person dropping of the child(ren). In other words, the receiving parent has no choice but to stay at the designated drop-off location—usually the receiving parent’s home—until someone arrives with the child(ren). This arrangement effectively forces the receiving parent to wait even if the other side shows up excessively late. In turn, that gives malicious parties a means of needling each other by intentionally dropping off excessively late every now and then, such as when the receiving parent has something important to do with the child(ren). Again, when the receiving parent instead provides the transportation, the waiting parent can simply leave with the child(ren) when the receiving parent runs unreasonably late. For most parties, it is just plain better when the receiving parent arranges transportation.
2. When To Meet At A Neutral Location. The next question clients usually ask is “why do some people choose to meet at a neutral location if it generates waiting issues?” The answer: Sometimes other concerns outweigh the ones described above. For example, a victim of domestic violence might want to meet at a crowded grocery store for safety reasons. A person in a witness protection program might request a neutral exchange location as a means of keeping his or her address secret. Or perhaps parties might elect to meet at a midway point if they live a hundred miles from each other, and neither one wants to drive back and forth the entire distance for a single exchange.
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