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What to expect from a family law judge when you're doing your parenting plan

Posted by Elizabeth Steen | Feb 24, 2021 | 0 Comments

Everyone is nervous when they're starting a new parenting plan during a divorce. It's totally normal to wonder if the other person will keep their word, if you can do this together, or if you're doing everything you can for your children. 

If you and your ex have decided to be amicable, then agreeing to a few rules early in the process, ideally before one of you even moves out, will help avoid a lot of hassles later. Shared parenting time can be easier than living together. Some parents even find that one-on-one time with their children is more enjoyable. You're no longer arguing over house rules - you can each set your own rules for your own house. You're not stressing about the relationship or drained by the interactions that the two of you had been having. Things can be peaceful and much easier. 

If you do go to court, however, then everyone wants to know what to expect. Years ago, it was kind of a roll of the dice to go to court. The judge had a lot of discretion to decide people's lives, and the rules were very unclear. Now the rules are much more clear. The judge has very little discretion in Washington. And a Parent Coordinator, GAL, or other counseling professional is likely to decide your case, rather than the judge. 

Here is the Washington State Family Law Manual to explain the general guidelines for the rules: 

https://www.courts.wa.gov/newsinfo/content/pdf/FLHBMarriageEdition.pdf

And here is the handbook for judges, to explain how a judge would see your case: 

https://www.afccnet.org/Portals/0/the_modern_family_court_judge.pdf

Judges today have learned to give much more weight to therapists and other counseling professionals. Parent Coordinators and GALs guide the process. The experts make a recommendation to the court, and the judge will almost always follow that recommendation. Parents can complain if the GAL or Parent Coordinator makes a recommendation the parent doesn't like. But these kinds of complaints are rarely successful. 

If you want to be amicable, then agreeing together to see a counselor or therapist can help you both keep a lot more control over the process. If you go to court, you're going to end up with a therapist anyway. And the judge will just rubber stamp whatever that therapist says. So neither parent has that much control in court. But if you have an out-of-court divorce process, then you can agree together on the qualifications for the therapist, how to follow the recommendations, and what will happen if either of you disagrees with the therapist (therapists can be wonderful but they aren't always perfect). 

A divorce-without-court process can help both parents feel respected and supported. You can skip the extra paperwork for litigation and hire a therapist that both of you like, if you think that will help your situation. That helps you both, and your children. You can avoid a situation where you both have to live with anything a court-appointed therapist tells the judge.

Call today for a free consult to see if working together to find a therapist will help your family more in the long run. 

About the Author

Elizabeth Steen

Elizabeth Steen is licensed in Washington State as well as Washington D.C. After work, Elizabeth enjoys making her West Seattle renowned flan recipe with her daughter, which she’s willing to share with favorite clients. She also enjoys hiking, yoga and chasing her family’s fantasy football league title every fall.

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