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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 the fundamental right to be involved in their children’s lives.   Parenting plans are more than mere visitation schedules.  For most, parenting plans are about also about “co-parenting;” joint decision making, equal access to information, and the ability to attend school and extracurricular activities in which their child(ren) may participate.  For others, it is about defining clear boundaries to insulate both parent and child from an abusive or controlling personality.   In either case, having experienced counsel on your side is essential in the drafting of an initial parenting plan in a divorce or paternity action through subsequent modifications of that parenting plan as a child ages or as life changes.

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

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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?  The courts are required to examine a variety of factors including the bond between the child(ren) and each parent, the historical share of parenting roles between the parents, prior agreements of the parents, each parent’s residence and work schedule and the developmental ages/needs of the child(ren).  The complete list of factors can be found at:

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 and neither parents has anything good to say about the other, 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 along the lines of “integration” (i.e., where a child has been residing primarily in the home of the other parent contrary to the parenting plan), “detrimental environment” (i.e., where one parent’s home environment has become detrimental to the child’s welfare or development), or substantial custodial interference resulting in findings of contempt against one parent.  Washington’s modification statute is set forth at:

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.

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  • "THANK YOU. Words can’t actually describe my gratitude but I can definitely tell you that your ability to manage me and my messy situation could not come with greater appreciation. I truly believe that I could not have managed it as well or as successfully without you. You are such a blessing to this crazy world and you’re helping make a true difference in people’s lives." - Lindsay, J., June 2018

  • "You have no idea how much I appreciated the kindness, patience, and above all the love you showed me during the last five months. I could not have coped through this nightmare without you. Thank you! I also wanted to let you know how grateful I am to have had you in my corner during this ordeal. It means a lot to me to have had someone (so amazingly talented and competent) who I had complete trust in handling the most difficult event of my life. Once again my most sincere thank you!" - Judith D., Vancouver, June 2017

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