So you’ve figured out the first steps of how to file, how to divide your property/debts. But what about the kids? What next?
First things first – you are required to take a Parenting Seminar. In order to enter a final parenting plan in King County, you must attach your certificate from the “What About the Children” seminar. No certificate? No final parenting plan. So make sure you attend. Information about the seminar can be found here.
Now the parenting plan. This is important. This plan will be in effect until your children turn 18, so you want to make sure it’s a plan that works for you. Don’t agree to something thinking you can change it later – it’s not easy to do a modification, and it’s a whole other set of court fees and hearings, not to mention stress.
When a court is entering a parenting plan, it is going to look at a number of factors, and ultimately, it wants to enter a plan that is in the best interests of the child. What does this mean? Well, it’s a bit of a grey area, as we all know everyone’s circumstances are different. But generally the criteria a court is looking for can be found in RCW 26.09.187, specifically section 3(a):
(i) The relative strength, nature, and stability of the child’s relationship with each parent;
(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 as defined in *RCW 26.09.004(3), including whether a parent has taken greater responsibility for performing parenting functions relating to the daily needs of the child;
(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.
These factors are different in every case. As I said before, everyone’s circumstances are different and everyone’s children are different. There’s no way to know which one of these might be the most important in your case, or which one the court might think is the most important in your case. But keep these in mind, and keep in mind a plan that will work for you, and you’re on your way to drafting a successful parenting plan.