A parenting plan is the order the family law court enters, most typically in cases of divorce and legal separation, to govern when the child(ren) will live with each parent. But what happens to a parenting plan when a child is removed from the home by CPS and dependency case is established?
The dependency court under Washington State law has exclusive original jurisdiction over all matters relating to children alleged or found to be “dependent.” See RCW 13.04.030. This means that the moment a dependency case is filed, the dependency court orders are exclusively what govern the child's placement and visitation. Thus, a dependency court action temporarily suspends any other orders impacting the children, including a parenting plan, that would otherwise govern that child's placement or contact with parents. The dependency court can order that the parenting plan be followed, however.
A dependency case does not automatically alter or terminate other family law orders, though the court can sometimes do so if it finds such a change to be in the child's best interests. Thus, if the dependency court does nothing to alter a preexisting parenting plan, that parenting plan will “come back to life” and be in effect after dismissal of the dependency case unless the dependency court orders otherwise.
While the law does not explicitly require the dependency court to modify or establish a protective family law parenting plan before dismissal of every dependency case, in practice the court will often require that such a modification or establishment occur prior to dismissing the dependency. This is because the court is always required to rule in the child's best interests, with child safety being its paramount consideration. Usually, in King County, after successful return home to a parent, the dependency court will require that parent to obtain a family law parenting plan that is protective of the child and reflective of the parents' progress within the dependency case.
A common example for why this happens is the following scenario:
- Parent A gets the child successfully returned home to them and otherwise meets the requirements for dismissal of the dependency.
- The dependency court remains concerned about Parent B's parental fitness, and has only allowed them supervised contact for the duration of the dependency case.
- There is no preexisting parenting plan in family law court to govern the child's custody and visitation.
- If the dependency case is dismissed, there is thus no court order protecting the child from Parent B, and Parent B may even technically be able to pick the child up from school one day.
- Because of this, the dependency court grants “concurrent jurisdiction” (permission) for the family law court to establish a protective parenting plan while the case is still open.
- The dependency court only then dismisses the dependency case once it sees that there will be a post-dismissal parenting plan to protect the child from Parent B.
Parties in a dependency case will often argue in court whether a parenting plan is needed for dismissal of the case. In practice, at least in King County, an updated parenting plan reflective of the parents' progress within the dependency case will often be required by the dependency court prior to dismissal. Because the dependency court by law has exclusive original jurisdiction over children found or alleged to be dependent, other family law orders like a parenting plan are put on hold pending the resolution of the dependency case.
If you have questions about parenting plans and/or dependency cases, you can email us at [email protected] or call 206-926-9848.