Child custody and visitation are divorce terms that are no longer being used by Washington courts. Instead, divorcing parents are now required by law to create what is called a parenting plan. It's important to understand what's involved in a parenting plan early in the divorce process.
During divorce proceedings parents can each submit opposing parenting plans or they can submit an agreed parenting plan. Whenever a Washington court makes a child custody determination, it will consider all plans brought before it and it will approve the parenting plan that is in the best interest of the child or children involved.
Parenting plans prepared for family court must contain three primary elements. First, they must have a schedule that plans the child's residential care. Second, they must allocate parental decision-making responsibilities. Third, they have to provide a means by which to resolve any disputes that arise in the future. All these provisions are intended to protect the best interests of the child.
In making decisions on parenting plans a court will also consider whether a child or children are protected from the chances of neglect and/or parental abuse. The court will always seek to protect children from domestic violence, abuse of parental conflict and other situations that could be harmful to a minor.
Many parenting plan arrangements can be made easily without the need for litigation or a court battle. In cases of disagreement, though, an attorney can be valuable in helping parents assert their rights and privileges with regard to child custody and parenting arrangements in court.
Source: Washington State Bar Association, "Dissolution: What you should know..." Dec. 21, 2014