WomensLaw serves and supports all survivors, no matter their sex or gender.

Legal Information: Washington

Washington Custody

View all
Laws current as of December 15, 2023

What is a parenting plan and what are "parenting functions"?

In Washington, a custody/visitation order is referred to as a parenting plan. A temporary parenting plan is used while the case is going on, before the final decision is made. A permanent parenting plan assigns rights and responsibilities to each parent and usually includes the specific time the child will spend with each parent, which parent will make decisions regarding the child, how disputes between the parents will be resolved and any limits on parenting functions.1 The goals of the parenting plan are to provide for the child’s physical care, maintain the child’s emotional stability, provide for the child’s changing needs, set forth the responsibilities of each parent, minimize the child’s exposure to parental conflict, encourage the parents to avoid relying on judicial intervention, and to protect the best interests of the child.2

The parenting plan will give decision-making authority to one or both parents regarding the children’s education, health care, and religious upbringing and will set forth a residential schedule (where the child lives). However, regardless of who is given decision-making in the parenting plan, either parent may make emergency decisions affecting the health or safety of the child and each parent may make decisions regarding the day-to-day care and control of the child while the child is residing with that parent.3

The term “parenting functions” includes the decisions and functions that a parent performs that are necessary for the care and growth of the child. Parenting functions include:

  • maintaining a loving, stable, consistent, and nurturing relationship with the child;
  • attending to the daily needs of the child, such as feeding, clothing, physical care, supervision, health care, and day care;
  • making sure the child is getting an adequate education;
  • helping the child in developing and maintaining appropriate interpersonal relationships;
  • making good decisions regarding the child’s welfare, consistent with the child’s developmental level and the family’s social and economic circumstances; and
  • providing for the financial support of the child.4

A parenting plan can be issued as part of a:

  • Petition for Dissolution of Marriage (Divorce);
  • Petition for Legal Separation;
  • Petition to Establish Parentage (Paternity);
  • Petition to Modify Custody;
  • Petition for Non-Parental Custody, which is an action filed by a non-parent for custody of a child; or
  • Petition for a Parenting Plan, which is filed when paternity has been established but no parenting plan was entered.

1 R.C.W. § 26.09.004(3),(4)
2 R.C.W. § 26.09.184(1)
3 R.C.W. § 26.09.184(5)(a),(b) & (6)
4 R.C.W. § 26.09.004(2)

What are the advantages and disadvantages of filing a parenting plan?

There are many reasons why you might choose not to file for a parenting plan. You may decide that you don’t want to get the courts involved or you may already have an informal agreement with the other parent that works well for you. You may think that going to court will provoke the other parent to seek more time with your child and more legal rights, which you do not want him/her to have.

However, in some cases, it may be a good idea to get a court-ordered parenting plan. For example, a parenting plan may reduce conflict with the other parent because the rights and responsibilities for each parent would be stated clearly in the plan.

Getting a parenting plan can give you:

  • the right to make decisions about your child;
  • the right to have your child live with you.1

It can also lay out clear guidelines on the following issues:

  • with which parent the child will live;
  • the amount of time the child will spend with each parent;
  • which parent will make major decisions about the child; and
  • how the parents will resolve major disagreements.2

A lawyer might be able to offer you advice about whether or not filing in court for a parenting plan is right for you.  To find a lawyer in your area, please see our WA Finding a Lawyer page.

1 R.C.W. § 26.09.184(2)
2 R.C.W. § 26.09.184

Should I start a court case to ask for supervised visitation?

If you are not comfortable with the abuser being alone with your child, you might be thinking about asking the judge to order that visits with your child be supervised.  If you are already in court because the abuser filed for visitation or custody, you may not have much to lose by asking that the visits be supervised if you can present a valid reason for your request (although this may depend on your situation).

However, if there is no current court case, please get legal advice before you start a court case to ask for supervised visits.  We strongly recommend that you talk to an attorney who specializes in custody matters to find out what you would have to prove to get the visits supervised and how long supervised visits would last, based on the facts of your case.

In the majority of cases, supervised visits are only a temporary measure.  Although the exact visitation order will vary by state, county, or judge, the judge might order a professional to observe the other parent on a certain amount of visits or the visits might be supervised by a relative for a certain amount of time – and if there are no obvious problems, the visits may likely become unsupervised.  Oftentimes, at the end of a case, the other parent ends up with more frequent and/ or longer visits than s/he had before you went into court or even some form of custody.

In some cases, to protect your child from immediate danger by the abuser, starting a case to ask for custody and supervised visits is appropriate.  To find out what may be best in your situation, please go to WA Finding a Lawyer to seek out legal advice.