Articles Tagged with parenting plan

Cold and flu season is upon us. Sick days caused by colds, flus and other illnesses can cause people to miss work, school and other engagements. What many people don’t think about is how sick days might affect their parenting plan. Parenting plans are supposed to provide a residential schedule that sets forth where the children will reside every day of the year. Most of the time residential schedules go as far as to outline where the child will reside down to the hour of the day. But, what happens if the child or parent is sick during their scheduled residential time?

Unless ordered otherwise, if the parent is sick during his or her residential time with the child, it is still that parent’s responsibility to care for the child, or arrange other care during their illness. That said, if the parents have a good relationship, and can agree (preferably in writing) that the well parent can care for the child until the sick parent is well, there is usually nothing preventing this.

If the child is sick, the parent scheduled to have residential time with the child is still responsible for the child. Again, if the parents have a good working relationship there is usually no problem with the parents discussing where the child would be most comfortable during their illness (for example avoiding making a child suffering through a fever transition from one house to the other). Parents can arrange for make-up time when the child is well.

As any parent knows, kids change over time. They grow bigger, stronger, more independent, and busier. As they change, it is often necessary for the parenting plan that schedules their residential time to change with them. Last week, this blog discussed flexibility within parenting plans, or within the families following (or not following) a parenting plan. Here we’ll discuss a few ways that parenting plans can address growing children’s changing needs.

First, the form parenting plan provides two paragraphs for planning the child’s residential time with each parent. The two paragraphs address the child’s schedule at two different ages. Paragraph 3.1 of the form parenting plan addresses the child’s residential schedule while the child is under school age. (School age is defined by paragraph 3.2 of the form [usually when the child starts kindergarten or first grade]). Paragraph 3.2 provides the residential schedule for school-age children. This provides families the ability to make two residential schedules within the plan itself. Parents often choose to have more frequent, but shorter visits for the non-primary parent when the child is under school age, and then visits of longer duration when the child is older. These decisions are (hopefully) dependent on the needs of the child and their families.

Second, layered into the existing form, you can also have an even more graduated approach. If the child is very young, the child may need to have very short visits during the first year or so, followed by longer and longer visits all while they are still in the “before school age” definition. Or, you may want to design a different schedule for elementary, middle school, and high school. While the pattern form is designed for two schedules, it is possible to add more than two if both families agree, or if one party convinces the court that it is necessary.

When it comes to parenting plans, some clients prefer a plan that spells out where the child will be during every minute of every day. Some of these families go on to live that plan down to the minute. Other families hope for a more flexible plan. They might want the plan to be drafted so that the child resides with the father two days per week based on his preference, or the child’s preference. Maybe they want the flexibility to choose who takes the child to soccer practice, regardless of where the child is residing at the time. Flexibility can be great. If parents are willing to change plans and accommodate one another’s schedule, and that of the child, the child often benefits. For example, if both parents work together and are flexible, it often means the child can spend the most time possible with one of their parents, and less time at daycare or other third-party care.

That said, issues can arise if parents draft a specific and/or strict parenting plan, and then ignore the provisions laid out therein. Parents should be aware that continually working outside the parenting plan can end up being grounds for a modification of the parenting plan. This can also have impacts on child support. For example, if under the parenting plan the child is supposed to be residing with the father during the week and the mother every-other-weekend, but the parents later agree that the child should remain with the mother three days during the week plus every-other-weekend, the mother may have grounds to modify the parenting plan. If the parenting plan is modified, it may mean that the child support obligations also shift.

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t work with your child’s other parent, and be flexible when things come up. It does mean, that if you are not following the parenting plan in a substantial way, it might be a good idea to discuss with a family law attorney your parenting plan, and your current parenting circumstances. Flexibility is good, but protecting your time with your child is most important.

Unmarried parents are often confused about their rights and responsibilities when they want to move their children, or if they want to stop the children’s other parent from moving the kids. For most families living under a court-ordered Washington parenting plan, there is a relocation statute that requires notice be given (except in limited circumstances) prior to moving the children. The type of notification (formal vs. informal) and other requirements (timing of notice, allowing time for objection of other parent) of notification vary based on whether the move is (1) out of the school district, or (2) within the school district. A lot of attention is paid to the notice required for a move outside the school district. There is a law requiring (in most cases) a formal notice of intended relocation. There is also a process that allows the other party to object to the proposed relocation. However, there are frequent instances where a residential parent merely wants to move across town to a new home or apartment. These types of moves often keep the children in the same school district (or even the same school). In these instances, residential parents often wonder what the law requires of them, and non-residential parents wonder whether they have any say in the decision.

RCW 26.09.450 requires that when the residential parent intends to move the kids within the same school district, the residential parent must provide actual notice to all people entitled to residential time with the child. According to that statue, the notice may be by any reasonable means. While “reasonable means” is a vague term (that can include verbal notice), it is usually advisable that a residential parent provide written notice. This reduces the chance that the non-residential parent will deny receiving notice. A copy of the notice you provide should be kept for your records. Many attorneys advise that this notice be sent by certified mail with a return receipt requested. The notice should likely include your new home address, phone number, and (if applicable) new school or daycare information. (Notice requirements are often different in cases involving domestic violence or other safety concerns.)

If you are the recipient of notice that your child’s residential parent is relocating within the school district, you are not allowed to formally object to the relocation. That said, in some cases an in-district move may be grounds for a modification of the parenting plan.

While divorces don’t have to be acrimonious, they do usually complicate things. Things that were once simple and straightforward become more difficult. Kids sporting events are a common example of something that becomes more difficult after divorce. Often, during marriage parents both attend sporting events. They cheer for their kids, get to know other parents, and watch their kids develop as athletes. After divorce, many parents wonder whether they can still enjoy the weekly game. The answer often depends on the parents post-divorce relationship.

In divorced families where the parents have a positive and friendly co-parenting relationship, there is usually no problem with both parents attending the same sporting events. At our firm we’ve even seen families where one former-spouse invites the other out for ice cream to celebrate a win (or recover from a loss).

However, in cases where the parents have not exhibited the ability to maintain their composure when in the same location, it is often best to avoid joint participation in sporting events. While many parents are sad to miss their kids’ game, most agree it is better to have your kids miss you at the game than be witness to you and your former-spouse arguing on the sidelines. It is also possible to write into a parenting plan that parents alternate involvement in sporting events so that both parents can remain involved in sports without the risk of exposing the kids to hostility.

It’s hard to believe that September is more than half over. School supplies have been opened and used, new clothes worn and homework assigned. Families with school-age children are getting back into the routine of school five days a week. As has been previously discussed on this blog, children of divorced parents are often also adjusting to a different (school schedule) residential schedule. Some kids have been through this transition before. For some kids, this is the first time they are dealing with a new school year as part of a two-home family. The Huffington Post recently published an article entitled “How Our Schools Can Better Serve Children of Divorce.”

As previously suggested on this blog, and as suggested in the article, parents can do many things to make the transition back to school easier on children of divorce. The article suggests (and we agree) that parents should let the school know that the children are going through (or have recently been through) a divorce. Parents can ask teachers of elementary age children and (perhaps more appropriately) guidance counselors of middle school or high school students whether they are seeing any issues with the child that may be attributed to stress at home. If the adults at school are seeing issues, it may be time to consult with a counselor trained in dealing with children of divorce. Kids are at school for many hours each day. Teachers and other school staff can be a divorcing (or divorced) parent’s ally in helping kids adjust.

Transitioning from summer to school schedules, sun to rain, and free play to structure can be enough to deal with. If your child is also dealing with a new family structure, it might be good to give their well-being some extra thought and attention.

A discussion recently transpired among family law practitioners regarding child support payments in circumstances where parenting plans provide for equal (50/50) residential time with each parent. A novice family law attorney was coming to the (more experienced) field of family law lawyers looking for an answer to her client’s question regarding child support. Unfortunately, even the most veteran among us was unable to give a clear answer because the law does not provide a clear answer. Instead, it appears, based on many practitioners experience, that it depends on the specific circumstances of the case, or even the specific decision maker’s opinion on how this issue should be handled. In a case where one parent has the child(ren) 90% of the time, it can be fairly simple to determine how much child support the parent with 10% of the residential time will pay (assuming no extenuating circumstances). In those cases, the law does provide a fairly straightforward process for determining child support based on the parties income. But, when there is a 50/50 parenting plan in place, it is less clear if the same process applies, or if another formula should apply.

What is clear is that one thing is always considered by the court when making decisions regarding this issue. The court is going to want to know about the income disparity (if there is one) between the parties. If both parties make roughly the same amount, it is more likely the court will order that there be no transfer payment (i.e. one parent paying the other). With a large disparity in income, it becomes more likely that there will be a transfer payment. This makes sense given that the total child support amount (the amount that the legislature has deemed should be spent on a child with parents of that combined income level) is to be shared between the parties, and the lower-earning parent will be unable to provide for the child at the level the parties could if they were both contributing their proportional (tbased on income) share to the support of the child.

There is a separate formula for when the parties with more than one child split the children up, with one child residing at one parent’s home, and the other residing at the other parent’s home.

As summer vacation draws near, thoughts of swimming pools, suntan lotion and backyard barbeques fill most of our minds. But for parents facing their summer parenting plan schedule, other thoughts might be coming to mind. Many families with parenting plans have one residential schedule for their children during the school year and another for the summer. This means that in the coming months, these families have to adjust to more than just getting used to seeing a bit more sun in the sky.

Kids often spend more time during the summer with the parent that they don’t reside the majority of the time with during the school year. This can mean excitement and some stress for the kids and the non-majority parent. There are adjustments to family schedules, how much food to make for meals, limits on screen-time, the setting of summer bedtimes, and more. For the parent with whom the children reside the majority of the time it can often mean less time with the kids. Some parents use this as a time to do some adults-only traveling, or a time to do some summer cleaning without frequent interruptions from the kids.

For most families, summer parenting plans can be personalized to the needs of a particular family. If the kids are young they may do better with an every-other-week rotating schedule (or perhaps even maintaining the school year schedule). When kids are older, some families choose to have a three to five week block of time with each parent. Still other families choose to maintain the school year schedule. The plan should be personalized to meet the needs of a particular family.

With the holidays approaching, parents considering divorce may be wondering what holidays with their children could look like post-separation. While specifics should be discussed with an attorney, there is general information that might resolve some questions.

The Washington State parenting plan form includes the following holidays: New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King Day, Presidents’ Day, Memorial Day, July 4th, Labor Day, Veterans’ Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The form provides just a starting point. Many families decide to add more holidays (ex. Easter, Hanukkah, New Year’s Eve, Halloween) and/or subtract some of the holidays (ex. Presidents’ Day, Veterans’ Day) already included.

The pattern form asks that parties provide where the children will reside during each of the holidays. It also asks that parties provide the time that the holidays will begin and end. In making this decision, it is important to consider the ages of the children, important times for the family during the holiday, and plans of extended family during holidays. Many families choose to have most holidays last from morning at around 9:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m. Then, many families choose to include exceptions to this general rule. For example, many make the Fourth of July an overnight and/or ask that Thanksgiving begin after school on Wednesday and last until Sunday. There isn’t a right or wrong way to handle holidays in your parenting plan, as long as your holiday schedule works for both parties and the children. We would be happy to help you draft a parenting plan that will keep your holidays as happy as possible.

In a recent article, “How to Connect With School-Aged Children When You’re Separated or Divorced,” in The Huffington Post’s divorce section, Naomi E. Goldstein, Ph.D. discusses the difficulty and importance of connecting with children after divorce. In that article, she posits that it is especially difficult for divorced parents to connect with children as they enter elementary and middle school years. As family law attorneys, we have had firsthand experience helping our clients, with children of all ages, maintain their parent/child connections in the face of a changing family structure.

In fact, it is our understanding of this difficult reality that drives us to draft parenting plans that are as personalized as possible. As part of our process, we encourage our clients to think about ways they connected with their children prior to separation. Then we strategize how those ways may be maintained or even expanded through a well-drafted, personalized, parenting plan. For example, if you bond with your kids by coaching or watching their sporting events, but you are not the primary parent, we might draft a plan with provisions allowing for you to coach or watch events during the other parent’s residential time with the child. Or, if you have a special tradition (ex. a yearly camping trip the first weekend after school releases for the summer) we might draft a plan that allows you and your child to continue your yearly ritual.

In the absence of extenuating circumstances, maintaining a connected parent/child relationship with both parents should be the goal of drafting a parenting plan. Parenting plans are not one size fits all. Let us help you make a parenting plan that keeps you and your children connected.