Washington Court Holds Mother in Contempt for Violating Parenting Plan

A parent may be held in contempt if they fail to comply with a Washington parenting plan. A parent may move for contempt if the other parent prevents visitation, does not return the child from visitation, or fails to engage in joint decision-making.

In a recent case, a mother appealed a contempt order after a commissioner found she had failed to notify the father of dental and medical appointments. A parenting plan was entered when the parents divorced in 2014.  Pursuant to the parenting plan, the children would live with their mother in another state and come to Washington to visit their father for winter and summer vacations. Each parent was allowed to make day-to-day decisions and emergency healthcare decisions while the children were with them, but nonemergency health care decisions were to be made through joint decision-making.

The father alleged the mother had taken the children to the dentist without notifying him.  The mother said she probably had notified him, but that she could have forgotten to do so.  The father wanted to engage in joint decision-making and participate in the appointments remotely.

A commissioner found the mother had disobeyed the parenting plan in bad faith and found her in contempt of the parenting plan.

The mother could purge the contempt by complying with the notice requirements in the order for six months.  She would have to give the father 24 hours’ notice of medical appointments, with the appointments occurring at least 72 hours after the notice is given.  The mother appealed.

The commissioner based their findings of fact on the sworn declarations of the parties.  According to the appeals court’s opinion, those declarations showed the mother had made and taken the children to appointments on multiple occasions without notifying the father beforehand. The appeals court found these actions violated the parenting plan. The appeals court further found that the repeated incidents and the failure to communicate reflected bad faith.

Finding no abuse of discretion, the appeals court affirmed the order of contempt against the mother.

Nothing in the appeals’ court’s opinion suggests the father actually objected to the treatment the children were receiving or to the providers performing it. Parents often pursue a contempt order when the other parent seeks treatment they do not want the child to receive. This issue may arise when one parent wants to seek therapy for the child or treatment for a suspected learning disability, developmental disability, or other condition the other parent disputes. Additionally, parents may have conflict surrounding medical treatment when one parent objects to the specific healthcare provider or to the cost of the treatment.

In this case, however, there was nothing in the appeals’ court’s opinion indicating there was a dispute regarding the actual treatment the children were receiving.  The opinion only referenced dental and medical appointments.  The father had expressed an interest in participating in the appointments, but did not seem to object to the treatment.

A custodial parent scheduling a routine or non-controversial medical appointment may not even think about the requirements of the parenting plan when scheduling routine or ordinary medical appointments.  As this case shows, however, failing to consult with the other parent could be a violation of the parenting plan when joint decision-making is required. Parents need to fully understand their obligations under a parenting plan and discuss any concerns with their Washington child custody attorney immediately.  If you are facing a custody case or seeking to enforce a parenting plan, call Blair & Kim, PLLC, to discuss your case.  You can reach us at (206) 622-6562.

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