Washington LawHelp

Parenting Plans: General Info

Authored By: Northwest Justice Project LSC Funded
Read this in:
Spanish / Español
Download Information Related Resources



What is a Parenting Plan?

It is a court order a judge[1] enters in one of these legal matters:

  • Divorce

  • Legal Separation 

  • Parentage (Petition to Decide  Parentage)

  • Request for a parenting plan after parentage has been settled without a parenting plan (Motion or Petition for a Parenting Plan)

  • Change of custody (Petition to Change Parenting Plan)

  • Request for child custody by a non-parent (Petition for Non-Parent Custody)

What does the Parenting Plan say?

  • Which parent the child will live with (custody)

  • How much time the child will spend with each parent

  • Which parent will make major decisions about the child

  • How you and the other parent will work out major disagreements

How do I get a Parenting Plan?

  • You may get a Parenting Plan when you are a party to any of the court matters listed above.  

  • You may file a proposed Parenting Plan if one of the above matters has already been filed, but the judge has not yet ordered a Parenting Plan. You should file the Parenting Plan with your other papers--petition, motion, or response. You must also have it served on every other party in the case. You must give a copy of all your case papers to the other party in the case. Call CLEAR at 1-888-201-1014 or ask your court's family law facilitator about rules for serving court papers.

When will the judge approve my Parenting Plan?

If you and the other parent agree on a proposed Parenting Plan: the judge will usually approve it.

If you and the other parent disagree: the judge will decide on a Parenting Plan after hearing or trial.

The judge looks at many things when deciding. The most important factor is the best interests of the child.

Can I ask for a Parenting Plan that gives us joint custody?

Probably not. Washington judges rarely decide on a final Parenting Plan that provides for a 50/50 custody arrangement.

How does the court make sure we follow the Parenting Plan?

Once the judge signs a Parenting Plan, it becomes a binding court order. Both parents must follow it. Example: you may not refuse to allow the other parent to see the child just because that parent has not paid child support.

If the other parent does not allow you to see the child when you have the right to do so, the judge may find the other parent in contempt. If that happens, the judge could order make-up visitation time, jail time, fines, or some other type of punishment.

*A judge who finds you in contempt more than once in a three-year period can use that as a reason to change custody.

Can I change a Final Parenting Plan?

It is hard to do. Usually, the judge will change it if you and the other parent agree to the change. If you do not agree, the judge may make major changes, such as which parent the child lives with, only if a major change has taken place in the child's or other parent's life since the entry of the original Parenting Plan. It is not enough that the parent wanting the change thinks his/her life has gotten better and the children should now live with him/her.

If you do not agree on the change, one of these things must have happened for the judge to order a change in where the child lives:

  • The child has gone to live with one parent for an extended period with the other parent's permission.

  • The parent who does not want the change has been held in contempt of court at least twice in three years, or has been convicted of interfering with the other parent's time with the child.

  • The child's present life with a parent has been shown to be physically or emotionally harmful.

The judge may make minor changes more easily. Example:  a judge can make minor changes to the amount of time or certain days the child spends with either parent if the judge finds it is in the child's best interests.
If you cannot afford to hire a lawyer, you can ask to change your Parenting Plan on your own. Our packet called Filing a Petition to Change Your Parenting Plan, Residential Schedule, or Custody Order has forms and instructions. You can get it and other helpful information online at www.washingtonlawhelp.org.

You may also get the court forms at http://www.courts.wa.gov/forms/ or ask the family law facilitator, if your county has one. (Facilitators help people with no lawyer find and file the right forms in child custody and divorce matters.) Or ask the Superior Court Clerk for the forms. If you do not have Internet access or a courthouse, ask that forms be mailed to you from CLEAR. Call 1-888-201-1014.

What if I want to move with the child?

All parenting plans entered on or after June 8, 2000 must state what will happen if you or the other parent wants to move (relocate) with the child. The parent who wants to move the child must give the other parent written notice before moving. The notice gives the other parent a chance to

  • object to the move
  • ask the court to change the existing Parenting Plan

*For more information on moving with your child, ask for the Questions and Answers about Washington's Relocation Law and Changing a Parenting Plan/Child Custody Order  publications from CLEAR. Call 1-888-201-1014. Or read them at www.washingtonlawhelp.org. If you are the primary custodian and you are planning to move, you must know and understand the relocation laws and follow the requirements before moving.

May I file my Parenting Plan in Washington State?

It depends. Washington may not have the authority (jurisdiction) to enter a Parenting Plan if:

  • Your child lives in a different state

  • The child has not been living in Washington for at least six months

  • Another state has already entered an order about the child

Talk to a lawyer.

What if I need legal help?

CLEAR is Washington's toll-free, centralized intake, advice and referral service for low-income people seeking free legal assistance with civil legal problems. 

  • Outside King County: Call 1-888-201-1014 weekdays from 9:15 a.m. until 12:15 p.m. 

  • King County: Call 211 for information and referral to an appropriate legal services provider Monday through Friday from 8:00 am – 6:00 pm. You may also call (206) 461-3200, or the toll-free number, 1-877-211-WASH (9274). You can also get information on legal service providers in King County through 211's website at www.resourcehouse.com/win211/.

  • Persons 60 and Over: Persons 60 or over may call CLEAR*Sr at 1-888-387-7111, regardless of income.

Deaf, hard of hearing or speech impaired callers can call CLEAR or 211 using the relay service of their choice.

211 and CLEAR will conference in interpreters when needed at no cost to callers. 

Free legal education publications, videos and self-help packets covering many legal issues are available at www.washingtonlawhelp.org.


1. "Judge" in this publication refers to judges and court commissioners.



This publication provides general information concerning your rights and duties. It is not intended to replace specific legal advice. This information is correct as of June 2016.

© 2016 Northwest Justice Project — 1-888-201-1014.

(Permission for copying and distribution granted to the Alliance for Equal Justice and to individuals for non-commercial purposes only.)
Last Review and Update: Jun 22, 2016
YouTube Channel
Visit us on Facebook