Do I really need an attorney?
It’s true that individuals can establish a parenting plan and child support on their own, but even with a collaborative effort we highly recommend attorney assistance.
Child custody is an emotionally charged topic. In many cases, parents can express strong positions not previously known to their partner and can become obstinate and uncooperative in a hurry. Additionally, drafting a parenting plan without experience can lead to unforeseen conflicts down the road only avoided with decades of experience drafting plans that work for parents.
Our office understands the common impulse to try and ‘figure it out’ with the other parent, but a well-crafted parenting plan provides consistency and structure to the children as much as the parents. Avoiding pointless conflict during the formative years should be a top priority.
One of us doesn’t want a parenting plan. Does this change anything?
Parents have a right to request a parenting plan any time after the child is born and the identity of the parents have been determined. The only question before the court is what that plan will look like.
Unfortunately, an uncooperative spouse will make the process take longer, but a case can always be initiated.
I want to get a parenting plan quickly! How can this be accomplished?
Unfortunately, the establishment of a parenting plan takes time. If you are establishing a parenting plan in a divorce case, there is also a 90-day waiting period before final orders can be entered.
What kind of attorney fees can I expect?
This will vary greatly between parents. Many costs are primarily driven by your objectives, the history of the relationship and how the other party reacts. Hopefully, we can negotiate an amicable settlement quickly to avoid needless grief.
For those for those parents navigating a divorce or legal separation, your parenting plan and child support petitions will be baked into that process already.
We offer consultations so we can give you more tailored advice, so please get in touch.
My spouse and I agree on the terms of our separation. What does this change?
Fantastic! Our team is always thrilled to hear when parents work together. If you and the other spouse can agree beforehand, you can enter a joint petition to establish the parenting plan you want. If both parents freely agree, the court is not going to question the arrangements you make. This will make the process a lot faster and cheaper than if you fought it out in court. Your children will thank you.
If we cannot agree, how does the court enter a parenting plan?
The courts will endeavor to enter a parenting plan in the best interest of the children. This is a highly subjective and squishy standard. Judges, no matter how hard they try, don’t really know you or your children. Expecting the court to elegantly dictate your parenting relationship with your kids is like asking a surgeon to operate with a chain saw. Theoretically possible, but rarely successful. We never recommend taking a matter to trial for this reason.
I don’t know if I am the parent / She claims I am the father. What should I do?
When parties are unsure of the parents’ identity, or when the mother claims a father has no rights to a child, a father can motion to establish parentage – usually by way of court-ordered DNA test. Once paternity is established, the parenting plan and child support process unfolds as described above. Alternatively, if a father is proven not to be the parent’s relation, he can be absolved of obligation to the child.
I have cared for the child for years, but they are not actually related to me. What might this change
In some circumstances, when a parent (mother or father) has publicly held themselves out as a child’s caregiver for years, they can assume the legal responsibilities and rights of a parent as if they had always been. This is called being a de-facto parent. Be aware, this does not apply in all circumstances, so please consult with our team before making any decisions.
The other parent has an abusive or dangerous history towards myself or the children. What does this change?
Sadly, abuse and parental conflict are common occurrence in some family law cases. If a parent can show that the other parent is unfit, or that it would be dangerous for the child in some way, parenting plans can be entered that restrict a parent’s time, access, and decision making. The statute that allows this is known as RCW 26.09.191 (a.k.a. “191 Restrictions”).
What restrictions you might be able to secure will depend on the history of the history and available evidence of the dispute. You can also motion for a protection order as part of the process, to restrain the other parent from yourself and/or the children.
The other parent is withholding the child from me and I DO NOT HAVE a parenting plan. What can I do to stop this?
If you do not have a parenting plan already in place, then the other parent is assumed to have equal rights to the child. This means they can take the child whenever they please until restricted. You can fix this by petitioning for a parenting plan and then motioning for immediate relief to return the child to you, or at least enter a temporary parenting plan to stabilize the situation.
Once an order is in place, you can rely on it to hold the other parent in contempt of court if they breach its terms.
The other parent is withholding the child from me and I HAVE a parenting plan. What can I do to stop this?
If you already have a valid court order, and the other party deliberately breached it in bad faith, there are a variety of tools available to hold the other parent to account. Contempt of court can result in civil fines, extra parenting time for the injured parent, and even jail time if the offense is severe enough.
Problems arise when the parenting plan in question was poorly drafted or does not cover the behavior the other parent is exhibiting – making it difficult to argue that the other parent breached terms in bad faith. To fix the issue permanently, it may be necessary to file for modification to amend the parenting plan. This is one reason why having an attorney draft your parenting plan is so crucial to your future.
The other parent has fled with the child out of state and isn’t telling me where they are. What can I do?
Your remedies will depend on whether there is a court order specifically preventing this behavior in some way. If there is, contact an attorney immediately. International and inter-state child abductions are serious matters, and if they are allowed to brew can quickly become unmanageable problems.
The good news is, Washington generally retains jurisdiction over the children for 6 months after they stop regularly residing here. This means that if the child is removed without your consent, you can move quickly to establish a case here for their return.
Neither of us have been following the parenting plan. Am I in any legal jeopardy?
Theoretically, yes. Any time a parenting plan is not followed, the other parent can move to enforce its terms with the court. The safest solution is to put your head together with the other parent and jointly petition the court for a plan modification. This will ensure that the parenting plan stays unique to your family and is again enforceable.
Rather than simply ignoring a parenting plan, we always recommend keeping it up to date to avoid trouble in the future.
How is Child Support Calculated in Washington?
Washington uses a standard child support calculation. This means that it is extremely easy to calculate the support obligations of each party if their respective incomes are known.
In brief, the court totals the two parent’s incomes. Each parent’s proportional share of the total is reduced to a percentage, and then that percentage is applied to a mandatory per-child-per-month figure. The net difference is then transferred between the two parties each month. To use round figures, Parent A owes $1,000 per month, and Parent B owes $500 per month. This would result in a net transfer of $500 per month from Parent A to Parent B.
This calculation can be adjusted based on extenuating circumstances, such as a child residing primarily with one parent. Therefore, parenting plans and child support orders are often established together.
The other parent does not work or has no money. Can I still get a support calculation?
Yes. When calculating support for a party with no or unknown income, their income can be ‘imputed’ (assumed) at a minimum number for the purposes of child support calculations. Later, if new information is found to change this minimum number, child support can be modified accordingly.
The other parent isn’t spending the payments I send them on the child. Is there anything I can do?
A common myth is that child support is for the other parent. It isn’t. Child support is payment owed to the child themselves. The other parent merely collects it, and it is left to their discretion how to spend it in the child’s best interest. The only person who can waive the right to the payments is the child– who can’t sign away their right because by their nature they are a minor.
Therefore, the obligation to make payments is almost impossible to stop.
I want to relinquish my parental rights and obligations for child support. Is there anything I can sign?
Assuming you are the proper parent – no. While you can freely agree never to see your child, and even enter a parenting plan to that effect, you will always be required to pay child support and you will always reserve the right to petition the court to get your parenting time back.
The only way to truly absolve yourself of all obligation is by having another competent adult assume full legal responsibility in your stead. This is known as an adoption.
There is something else I want to know. How can I get my questions answered?
This FAQ page was designed to answer the common questions we hear from our clients, but it is by no means an exhaustive list.
Get in touch with us and we can schedule a consultation to get you the guidance you need.