Are you going through a divorce? If so, you are in good company. Divorce has now become a fabric of American life. And each state has its own court rules and procedures. In Washington, divorce is called “dissolution.” Whatever its name, divorce can be traumatic for children.
Experts agree that children need as much continuity as possible throughout this process. That’s why in Washington, parents are required to take a seminar to help children adjust to the change in their parents’ relationship. This seminar is called “What About the Children” and is a requirement before a final parenting plan could be entered.
Notice that I used the term “parenting plan” rather than custody. That’s the official term we use in Washington State to describe the formal legal arrangement that describes where the child(ren) will live the majority of the time and how visitation with the other parent will take place. With a few exceptions (proven domestic violence, drug or alcohol abuse, or child abuse to name a few), the court will not restrict the other parent from the children. In my experience, most judges and commissioners like to see the parents learn “co-parenting skills.”
Co-parenting means basically that the parent is able to recognize and involve the other parent in decisionmaking about the child(ren) and that the two parents are able to work together to make good decisions about the child(ren) even though the parents are divorced. That may seem like a farfetched idea when emotions are running high, but co-parenting can eventually happen even in the most contested divorces.
The key idea to keep in mind is the “best interests of the child(ren)” standard. A judge or commissioner will use this standard in deciding whether to sign your agreed parenting plan or what to order after a trial. This means that you should have this standard in mind from the very beginning.
You are your own best expert on the needs and history of your children and family. Even so, you should consult with an attorney in the early stages so that you are able to craft a plan that the court will accept. To save time, money, and minimize the stress of trial for both you and your children, it is best if you are able to work out a parenting plan that the other parent can agree on as well.
One way to do that is through early mediation. An attorney can work with you to think through several different parenting plan options that would be good for your children and also acceptable to the other side. Your attorney can then discuss your proposals with the other parent (or the other parent’s attorney).
Another great way to settle parenting issues early is by going to a dispute resolution center and work out a plan with the help of a trained mediator. In Pierce County, a great resource is the Pierce County Dispute Resolution Center. A trained mediator can work with you and the other parent to help you craft a parenting plan that puts your children first. By agreeing on a parenting plan early on in the process, you can give your children some stability and help them get used to the new family situation. While divorce is never easy, co-parenting helps children adjust faster. By mediating your parenting plan early on, you can get transition more smoothly from divorcing spouse to co-parent.