Samuel K. Darling, Divorce & Business Lawyer at Genesis Law Firm's headquarters in Everett, WA

by Samuel K. Darling, Divorce and Family Law Attorney in Everett, WA

“What is a normal parenting plan?” That might be one of the most frequent questions clients ask during custody-related consultations. Divorce practitioners in Washington keep in mind an informal, un-codified industry standard. We call it the “every-other-weekend” parenting plan. Like the name implies, the non-custodial parent receives residential time every-other-weekend, plus a midweek visit. I will explain in more detail later, including the treatment of other aspects of parenting time, such as holidays and vacations.

According to a 1998 government study, about half Washington’s parenting plans fell into the “every-other-weekend” category. Since then, courts have slowly increased the average residential time for non-primary parents. I will explain the latest trends after describing the details of the baseline, every-other-weekend plan. Stay tuned until the end. The concepts build upon each other.

 

Basic Every-Other-Weekend Schedule.

When the government performed the 1998 study, by far the most common style of parenting plan involved the child(ren) visiting the non-custodial parent every-other weekend, often from Friday evening through Sunday evening. The non-custodial parent also usually received a short visit during the middle of each week, commonly called a “burger night”.

Burger nights often took place after school for about 2-4 hours on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday evening. For example, the non-primary parent might have had residential time with the child(ren) every Wednesday from 6 to 9 pm, a good amount of time to get a burger and talk.

The following is example language:

The child(ren) shall reside with the mother, 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.

Basic Schedule for Holidays & Special Occasions.

The typical parenting plan in 1998 created exceptions for holidays, special occasions, vacations, and school breaks. Holidays and special occasions (such as birthdays) were usually divided on an “even/odd” basis. For example, mother might have had the child(ren) on Thanksgiving on even years, father would have Thanksgiving on odd-numbered years, mother would have Christmas Eve on even years, father would have Christmas Eve on odd years, and so on. The result was that each parent received half the holidays every year, and every holiday once per two years.

The following is example language:

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.
Mother’s Day: with Mother each year.
Memorial Day: with Petitioner in odd years and Respondent in even years.
Father’s Day: with Father each year.
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.

Notably the mother received every Mothers’ Day and the father received every Fathers’ Day.

Basic Schedule for Summer & Vacations.

In 1998, the summer schedule usually remained the same as the basic schedule – every-other weekend plus burger nights. Each parent also received a week or two of vacation with the child(ren) each summer. The following is example language:

The summer schedule is the same as the school year schedule . . . .

Each summer 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 mother’s choice shall govern on even years and the father’s choice shall govern on odd numbered years.

Basic Schedule for School Breaks (Other Than Summer).

Courts usually evenly divided school breaks between the parties, with each party receiving large blocks of time. The following is example language for winter break and other school breaks (aside from summer break):

Winter Break

(a) First Year. On the first year of the schedule, the child(ren) shall reside with the mother 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 father 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.

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 mother 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 father 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.

Parenting Plan Trends Since 1998

Since 1998, judges have increasingly acknowledged the changing division of parenting roles in the average American family. The breadwinner does more than just make money these days. He or she often spends significant time taking care of children and domestic chores. This has resulted in non-custodial parents receiving more residential time. Highly active non-custodial parents might receive five full days and overnights every two weeks, whereas a more traditional father might still receive an every-other-weekend parenting plan.

Similarly, highly involved non-custodial parents often receive a greater percentage of parenting time during the summer, such as a week on, week off schedule (50% of the summer).

Other aspects of the every-other-weekend parenting plan remain the norm, such as equal division of holidays, special occasions, vacations, and school breaks.

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