In Washington, courts have the authority to give parenting plans the effect of a judicial order. These plans cover essential elements of care including how much time parents will spend with their children and how they will make decisions about important issues such as medical treatment and education.
It is common for parenting plans to give parents shared decision-making authority, including in situations in which one parent spends a lot more time caring for children than the other parent. However, there are instances in which a court may deny a parent authority to make decisions on behalf of his or her children.
A limitation mandated by statute
Washington’s statutory law about parenting plans allows a judge to refuse a parent the right to participate in decision-making when a parent has willfully abandoned the child for an extended period of time, refused to perform parenting functions, has a history of domestic violence or has been convicted of certain sex offenses.
If a parent cannot legally make decisions on his or her own behalf, it would not be possible for him or her to make decisions on a child’s behalf. A legal determination of incapacity would prevent parents from entering into agreements or giving consent for medical treatment.
Other factors the court will consider in determining whether to limit a parent’s decision making authority:
- If both parents are opposed to mutual decision making.
- If one parent is opposed to mutual decision making, and that opposition is reasonable based on the circumstances.
- Whether the parents have an ability and desire to cooperate with one another.
- Whether the parents’ geographic proximity to one another affects their ability to make timely decisions.
Courts do not restrict a parent’s rights to play a role in decisions about child care unless they have substantive concerns that the parent’s participation may negatively affect the children’s well-being. In all matters relating to parenting plans, promoting children’s best interests is always the foremost objective.