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What happens when Washington parents have child custody disputes?

When parents in Gig Harbor divorce, a parenting plan will be established that determines where the child will live, when and with whom. These plans are created with the best interests of the child in mind. Parenting plans in Washington are legally binding. However, sometimes situations come up in which a parent fails to adhere to his or her parenting plan.

While parents may feel like they have a good reason not to follow a parenting plan, in reality this failure could have negative consequences on the parent who fails to follow the plan, and more importantly, could harm the child. For example, a parent who does not receive the child support they are due may decide to keep the child from being with the paying parent in violation of the parenting plan. However, this could result in the parent being found in contempt of court and the parent could face sanctions. If, within a period of three years, a parent is in contempt of court two or more times, the court may change the parenting agreement.

Parenting plans in Washington in general may contain provisions regarding how parents can resolve disputes they may have when it comes to following the parenting plan. Alternative dispute resolution processes may include counseling, mediation or arbitration. Sometimes court action is necessary, but usually it is best and may even be mandatory to try alternative dispute resolution processes per the parenting plan first. However, there are some situations in which mediation may not be appropriate, such as in cases of domestic abuse.

Using alternative dispute resolution to resolve a parenting plan dispute can be one way to address the situation in a constructive manner. Nevertheless, parents should do all that they can to follow the parenting plan. Doing so provides the child with the consistency in care they need to grow and thrive.

Source: Washington Courts, "Family Law Handbook," July 2014

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