Will the Court Order My Wife to Abide by the Parenting Provisions in Our Separation Agreement?

Question

My wife and I separated two years ago.  We met with a mediator and worked out a written separation agreement regarding finances and arrangements for our two children.  We both signed the agreement in front of a notary.  Now that we have decided to go forward with a divorce, she says that she wants a new residential schedule for the kids.  Isn’t she bound by what it says in the separation agreement?

Answer

The short answer is “no.”  Washington law generally encourages separation agreements as a way for couples to settle their disputes without litigation.  Those agreements will generally be upheld so far as money and property is concerned.  But when it comes to parenting arrangements, the court does not have to follow what the parents have previously agreed to do. 

This applies to any agreement about the children, whether it’s an informal deal worked out through a couple of emails, or a professionally drafted separation agreement negotiated with the help of a mediator and signed in front of a notary.  The court can certainly consider the previous agreement, as well as evidence about how well those arrangements have been working for your children.  The court’s job ultimately is to enter a parenting plan which is in the best interests of your children, which might or might not be the same as the plan you agreed to two years ago.

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