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What issues are addressed in a Parenting Plan?

A Parenting Plan is an extensive document that includes a residential schedule for the school year, summer vacation, school breaks, holidays, and special occasions. In addition, it addresses decision making issues such as educational choices, religious upbringing, and medical care. It will also set forth any restrictions as to residential care. Although the document may at first seem overwhelming, its purpose is to eliminate disputes by setting forth specifically each parent’s rights and responsibilities.

How does the court determine the residential schedule?

The Washington State Legislature has set forth specific factors to be taken into consideration when establishing a Parenting Plan. These factors include, but are not limited to, the following: (a) The court shall make residential provisions for each child which encourage each parent to maintain a loving, stable, and nurturing relationship with the child, consistent with the child’s developmental level and the family’s social and economic circumstances. The court shall consider the following factors: (i) The relative strength, nature, and stability of the child’s relationship with each parent, including whether a parent has taken greater responsibility for performing parenting functions relating to the daily needs of the child; (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; (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.

What are “Parenting Functions”?

“Parenting functions” means a parent making decisions and performing acts necessary for the care and growth of the child. Parenting functions are defined by six (6) non-exclusive factors: Maintaining a loving, stable, consistent, and nurturing relationship with the child; Seeing to the child’s daily needs, such as physical care ( feeding, clothing) and engaging in age-appropriate activities with the child that are within the social and economic circumstances of the particular family; Providing adequate education for the child; Helping the child develop and maintain appropriate interpersonal relationships; Exercising appropriate judgment regarding the child’s welfare; and Providing for the financial support of the child.

At what age can a child determine where he or she wishes to live?

Children do not have the final say as to where they wish to live. The court may take into consideration the child’s desires by interviewing the child in chambers pursuant to RCW 26.09.210. However, the court will take into consideration all of the factors set forth above when determining an appropriate parenting plan along with child’s desire.

How are disputes over the establishment of a parenting plan resolved?

When the parents are unable to reach an amicable agreement in the best interests of the children, the courts will often times appoint a guardian ad litem to look after the child’s bests interests. A guardian ad litem will conduct an “investigation” by interviewing the parents, the children, and others who have knowledge regarding the children. The guardian ad litem will then make a written recommendation to the court.

How does someone get to be a guardian ad litem?

A guardian ad litem is someone who has special training in parenting matters. Often times he or she will be an attorney or a counselor or psychologist. Guardian ad litems must be approved by the court. What are the factors to have restrictions placed on my spouse’s residential time with our children? RCW 26.09.191 provides, in part, as follows: (2)(a) The parent’s residential time with the child shall be limited if it is found that the parent has engaged in any of the following conduct: (i) Willful abandonment that continues for an extended period of time or substantial refusal to perform parenting functions; (ii) physical, sexual, or a pattern of emotional abuse of a child; (iii) a history of acts of domestic violence as defined in RCW 26.50.010(1) or an assault or sexual assault which causes grievous bodily harm or the fear of such harm; or (iv) the parent has been convicted as an adult of a sex offense. My spouse and I cannot agree on anything. How are we supposed to make mutual decisions regarding our children?

When is a child emancipated for purposes of a parenting plan?

At age eighteen (18) or graduation from high school, whichever comes later, except in unusual circumstances.

What authority allows courts to order the payment of post secondary educational support?

In general, RCW 26.09 gives trial courts discretion to award post secondary education support for adult children who are dependent. A court can either recognize a contractual agreement between the parties to pay post secondary education expenses or canorder these expenses to be paid upon a showing of certain standards.

What are the standards for payment of post-secondary educational support?

The standards are found at RCW 26.19.090. Standards for postsecondary educational support awards, which states as follows: “(1) The child support schedule shall be advisory and not mandatory for postsecondary educational support. (2) When considering whether to order support for postsecondary educational expenses, the court shall determine whether the child is in fact dependent and is relying upon the parents for the reasonable necessities of life. The court shall exercise its discretion when determining whether and for how long to award postsecondary educational support based upon consideration of factors that include but are not limited to the following: Age of the child; the child’s needs; the expectations of the parties for their children when the parents were together; the child’s prospects, desires, aptitudes, abilities or disabilities; the nature of the postsecondary education sought; and the parents’ level of education, standard of living, and current and future resources. Also to be considered are the amount and type of support that the child would have been afforded if the parents had stayed together. (3) The child must enroll in an accredited academic or vocational school, must be actively pursuing a course of study commensurate with the child’s vocational goals, and must be in good academic standing as defined by the institution. The court-ordered postsecondary educational support shall be automatically suspended during the period or periods the child fails to comply with these conditions. (4) The child shall also make available all academic records and grades to both parents as a condition of receiving postsecondary educational support. Each parent shall have full and equal access to the postsecondary education records as provided in RCW 26.09.225. (5) The court shall not order the payment of postsecondary educational expenses beyond the child’s twenty-third birthday, except for exceptional circumstances, such as mental, physical, or emotional disabilities. (6) The court shall direct that either or both parents’ payments for postsecondary educational expenses be made directly to the educational institution if feasible. If direct payments are not feasible, then the court in its discretion may order that either or both parents’ payments be made directly to the child if the child does not reside with either parent. If the child resides with one of the parents the court may direct that the parent making the support transfer payments make the payments to the child or to the parent who has been receiving the support transfer payments.”

My child is 18 years old, lives with his mother, and has a job. At one point does he stop being dependent?

The determination of dependency is the most important factor contained within these standards. Guidelines for determining dependency were established in Childers v. Childers, 89 Wn.2d 592, 575 P.2d 201 (1978). A dependent is “one who looks to another for support and maintenance, one who relies on another for the reasonable necessities of life.” Id. at 598. When dependency ends is a factual determination to be made from surrounding circumstances, such as child’s needs, prospects, desires, aptitudes, abilities and disabilities, parents’ level of education, standard of living and current and future resources, and amount and type of support child would have been afforded if parents had not divorced. Oblizalo v. Oblizalo, 776 P.2d 166, 54 Wash. App. 800 (1989). In Oblizalo, the court found that the child had a debilitating arthritic condition which had and would continue to require surgery and therapy. The child had also developed Reiter’s Syndrome, for which he required additional therapy six times per week.

If my former husband and I agree to pay post-secondary educational support, what should be included in the agreement?

An agreement which includes a requirement to pay college expenses must clearly express the length and type of support. The Washington Family Law Deskbook suggests four general areas of clarification. 1. Defined time limit of support. 2. Maximum level of cost. 3. How parents will share expenses. 4. What the child is required to do.

Am I still required to pay post-secondary educational support if a trust fund has been established for my child?

An educational trust fund established by either the parents or a third party does not obviate the parents’ obligation to pay for college expenses if, by agreement or court order, the parents are responsible of the expenses. See, Huff v. Huff, 68 Wn.2d 501, 413 P.2d 818 (1966). However, the existence of the trust fund may reduce the extent of each parent’s obligation.”My children are very young. How can post-secondary educational support be determined for them now?” : The issue of support for post secondary education can be reserved for later determination by entering a finding that the child’s needs for post-majority educational expenses cannot be determined at time decree is entered and that the matter may be heard de novo if the future. Failure to preserve the issue may bar subsequent modification if the need for support is known to the parents at the time of decree. See, In re Marriage of Zander, 39 Wn. App. 787, 275 P.2d 976 (1989).