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For divorcing couples in Washington and across the country, one of the most challenging aspects of the divorce process is the effect that it will have on the couple's children. Issues of child support and custody can be highly charged for divorcing parents, but as a general rule, states will award custody based upon what is in the child's best interests, and Washington is no exception. Whether a state awards sole or joint custody to a mother, father or both, a custody case must have a proposed parenting plan approved by the court before any final order is issued.

The purpose of a parenting plan is to ensure a stable and healthy environment for the child. In order to best achieve this purpose, a parenting plan must provide for the child's physical well-being and emotional stability. In addition, the plan needs to provide for the child's changing needs as he or she grows and matures, ultimately minimizing the need for future modifications to the child custody plan.

Additionally, a parenting plan must set forth clear responsibilities for each parent, establishing authority with respect to the child while encouraging parents to meet their responsibilities without the need for additional judicial intervention. Most importantly, any proposed parenting plan needs to minimize the child's exposure to parental conflict.

A family law attorney can help parents handle a custody dispute by assisting them in developing a parenting plan. The final parenting plan proposal should keep the child's best interests as the focus and provide useable guidelines for both parents, regardless of the ultimate custodial decision.