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Legal Information: Washington


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December 3, 2020

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)