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Child Custody, Visitation and Parenting Plans

Child custody, visitation and parenting plans

The United States Supreme Court has ruled that there is  fundamental right of a parent to make decisions regarding the care, custody and control of their children and the bulk of my practice is devoted to ensuring that parents are not denied their fundamental right to be involved in their child(ren)’s lives.   Parenting plans are more than mere visitation schedules.  Parenting plans are also about “co-parenting” (e.g., communication, joint decision making, access to information, dispute resolution, etc.) and defining clear boundaries for parenting to prevent overreach by one parent or to minimize conflict.  In either case, having experienced counsel to guide you in creating a parenting plan is of the utmost importance.

Let me put my experience to work for you when you child is on the line.  Each case has its own nuances and I can be there to guide you for the sake of your child.  Call me at 360-787-2424 or contact me online to schedule a consultation and we will find the solution to any problem concerning your parenting plan needs.

What others say about Clayton Spencer

I’m having a reflective and grateful moment and wanted to reach out to you guys to share my thoughts and feelings of gratitude. I realize I was just another client out of hundreds and hundreds for you guys, but you guys are much more than that to me. More than I can really express in words…  In the most fractured place a man could ever be, you all had tremendous empathy, patience and compassion for my highs, lows and every other vastly swinging emotion I experienced through that process.  I am very grateful you guys never “wrote my case off” like other law offices did in my situation…  You guys hung in there, guided and fought, HARD, for me and my child.  Although words can’t begin to express my gratitude, I want to express a very sincere and heartfelt thank you. I don’t know where my life would be without you guys believing in me. I’m not sure my child will ever truly know how important you all were in giving him a chance to grow up and really have his life meaningfully molded by his daddy, but I know and will forever be in your debt. Thank you all for your expertise, talents, skills and compassionate hearts!  – Chad W., Vancouver, April, 2017

Read more testimonials here.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can we create our own parenting plan? Yes! Experience has shown that those parenting plans which are the product of the parents’ mutual agreement tend to be the most successful.  A court usually will approve  an “agreed upon” parenting plan so long as there is nothing in the background of either parent which may suggest that the proposed parenting plan is not in the best interests of the child. For example, if there is a history of domestic violence between the parents, or if a parent has been charged or convicted of a sex abuse offense. 

If we can’t agree on a parenting plan, what does a court consider when ordering a parenting plan?  Washington state has set forth a number of “criteria”  that a court is supposed to consider when creating a parenting plan.  With respect to the residential schedule, RCW 26.09.187 directs a court to consider the following:

(3) RESIDENTIAL PROVISIONS.
(a) The court shall make residential provisions for each child which encourage each parent to maintain a loving, stable, and nurturing relationship with the child, consistent with the child’s developmental level and the family’s social and economic circumstances. The child’s residential schedule shall be consistent with RCW 26.09.191. Where the limitations of RCW 26.09.191 are not dispositive of the child’s residential schedule, the court shall consider the following factors:
(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.
(b) Where the limitations of RCW 26.09.191 are not dispositive, the court may order that a child frequently alternate his or her residence between the households of the parents for brief and substantially equal intervals of time if such provision is in the best interests of the child. In determining whether such an arrangement is in the best interests of the child, the court may consider the parties geographic proximity to the extent necessary to ensure the ability to share performance of the parenting functions.
(c) For any child, residential provisions may contain any reasonable terms or conditions that facilitate the orderly and meaningful exercise of residential time by a parent, including but not limited to requirements of reasonable notice when residential time will not occur.

For what reasons might a court restrict a parent’s contact or involvement with a child? A court is invested with the responsibility of ensuring that the best interests of the child are served in any parenting plan.  From time to time there are unhealthy issues in the parent/child or parent/parent relationship that must be dealt with before a parent may be allowed regular and frequent contact with a child.  Domestic violence, substance abuse, sex abuse, abandonment and abusive conflict are the more common grounds.  When a court encounters these issues in a case parenting time and decision making can be limited under RCW 26.09.191 until such time as the offending parent demonstrates rehabilitation.

What is a G.A.L. and how does that differ from a custody evaluator?  In cases with high conflict, often times a court seeks assistance from a professional in evaluating the case and making a recommendation as to the best interests of the child.  A Guardian ad Litem (G.A.L.) is the professional most often appointed by the court to conduct this investigation.  A G.A.L. will typically review all court pleadings and evidence filed by the parties, interview the parties and the child(ren) (if they are deemed old enough), observe parent/child interactions, interview witnesses (e.g. teachers, counselors, family members, etc.) and even conduct a home visit if appropriate.  The G.A.L. will then write a report/recommendation to the Court and then will appear in court to answer any questions.  A custody evaluator can perform all of the functions of a G.A.L. and then some.  The functional difference between a G.A.L. and a custody evaluator is that a custody evaluator typically has an advanced degree in psychology and therefore can employ various personality and function testing on the parents, which can aid a court in making a determination as to the best interests of a child and any prospective parenting plan.

What needs to happen before I can change my child’s parenting plan?   A petition for a “minor” modification or “adjustment” in the parenting plan, most commonly arising from changes in the parties’ work schedules, are fairly straight forward. A petition for a “major” modification (e.g., where one parent is seeking to change the primary residence of the child(ren) or where there will be a change of more than twenty overnights in a year) can be difficult to win in the absence of the agreement of the parties. Washington state has a strong presumption in favor of custodial continuity and changes to a parenting plan are generally disfavored in the absence of a showing a substantial changes in the circumstances of the child(ren) or either parent since the last parenting plan was entered.  RCW 26.09.260(2) sets forth the four basic ways by which a “major modification” of a parenting plan an be obtained:

 . . . “the court shall retain the residential schedule established by the decree or parenting plan unless:
(a) The parents agree to the modification;
(b) The child has been integrated into the family of the petitioner with the consent of the other parent in substantial deviation from the parenting plan;
(c) The child’s present environment is detrimental to the child’s physical, mental, or emotional health and the harm likely to be caused by a change of environment is outweighed by the advantage of a change to the child; or
(d) The court has found the nonmoving parent in contempt of court at least twice within three years because the parent failed to comply with the residential time provisions in the court-ordered parenting plan, or the parent has been convicted of custodial interference in the first or second degree under RCW 9A.40.060 or 9A.40.070.

My child says s/he wants to live with me – When can a child decide where they want to live?  Washington state has a clever statutory scheme when it comes to children deciding with whom they will reside. A child’s preference can be considered by when drafting an initial parenting plan, provided that the child is of sufficient maturity that the child is able to express a reasoned and independent preference. (See RCW 26.09.187(3)(vi))  However, once that first parenting plan is in place, a child’s preference is typically not considered by a court in any future modification under RCW 28.09.260.  Why? It probably has something to do with the fact that children, for a variety of reasons, frequently switch their allegiances between their parents over time.  Letting children have the power to manipulate their parents or play one against the other is never a good thing.

Testimonials
  • "Clayton has done a fantastic job finalizing my parenting plan! He talks fast (admittedly) because he has so much energy and passion for what he does and doesn’t want to waste your time. He’ very knowledgeable in family law and sets reasonable expectations whether it was what I wanted to hear or not. He looks out for his clients best interest and the child in my case.. what I was most impressed by was after about 8 months, he returned my voicemail right away to answer my questions and spent about 15 minutes of his time giving me advice with expecting nothing in return. He is top notch!" - Krista July 2, 2021

  • "Mr Spencer has been in practice for over 30 years. He knows the law better than any attorney I know, and I actually know several. He is honest, straightforward, and will work hard (even at crazy hours), to bring the best results possible. " - Jason Ackley May 25, 2021

  • "I came to Clayton seeking representation for my divorce. This is my first marriage and so going through a divorce was beyond anything I’ve ever experienced. I had no idea what to expect until I marched into the office of Clayton Spencer. First was a consultation where we met, and he informed me of the timeline/order of events, fees and such that I could expect. He was not pushy, he even wanted me to look into my options before committing to his help. My divorce wasn’t nasty, but it wasn’t simple either, and unless you have a crystal ball there is no way to know what you will need or problems that will arise. I am so happy that I had Clayton in my corner to help see me through this horrific time in my life, he navigated the uncharted waters for me and super pleased with knowledge, professionalism and understanding of my expectations. Thank you to both you and Jill for being so responsive and proactive, and diligent with my case!" - Pamela, July 21, 2020

  • "Mr. Spencer is a honest and thorough lawyer. I hired him to represent me in a child custody case. He took me through a variety of outcomes that may occur and asked me questions so we could create the most beneficial case. When me and the other party came to an agreement on our own time, Mr. Spencer and his secretary Jill helped complete the parenting plan and Jill filed the paperwork quickly. Jill was able to assist me and answer any questions I had. I will hire them again if I ever need legal help in the future. " - Heather July 18, 2020

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