Relocating with Your Child or Children:
A child or children relocation is ultimately a parenting plan modification without the need for the court to find adequate cause, ultimately cause necessary to modify the parenting plan without it being brought in bad faith or with the primary purpose being to harass the other parent. When a child relocation is on the table, the relocation itself – potential that the custodial parent will move to a different city or state – is the adequate cause necessary to potentially modify a parenting plan.
The first step in any potential child relocation is to provide the non-custodial parent or person entitled to residential time with your child or children, notice that you plan to move. Please See RCW 26.09.430. Notice must be provided via personal service or any form of mail requiring a return receipt. RCW 26.09.440. It must be made no less than 60 days before the date of the intended relocation, or no more than five days after the date the relocating party learned that a relocation is necessary and could not reasonably have known the information in time to provide 60 days-notice. Id.
If, however, the move is within the child’s same school district, then notice is required pursuant to the time line above, but may be made by any reasonable means necessary so long as it provided the other parent actual notice. Failure to provide notice to the other parent or individuals entitled to residential time with your child or children, could result in sanctions to that parent, including contempt if applicable.
In addition to notice, the relocating party is required to provide a proposed parenting plan to account for the proposed move. The non-relocating parent may certainly object to the child or children’s relocation. Such an objection must be made within 30 days of receipt of the custodial parent’s notice of intent to relocate. RCW 26.09.480. The objection is ultimately in the form of a petition for a parenting plan modification. Id. Should the non-relocating parent object, the party looking to relocate may not move provided the objecting party notes the matter for hearing in court not more than 15 days following timely service of the objection/petition to modify the parenting plan.
If the non-relocating parent does not object to the child’s move within the 30 day window, then the relocating parent may move with the child or children. The relocating parent must obtain an order allowing the relocation as well as a modified parenting plan in ex-parte court first. RCW 26.09.500.
While child relocations are some of the hardest decisions Washington Courts have to make, the court considers the following factors found in RCW 26.09.520.
(1) The relative strength, nature, quality, extent of involvement, and stability of the child’s relationship with each parent, siblings, and other significant persons in the child’s life;
(2) Prior agreements of the parties;
(3) Whether disrupting the contact between the child and the person with whom the child resides a majority of the time would be more detrimental to the child than disrupting contact between the child and the person objecting to the relocation;
(4) Whether either parent or a person entitled to residential time with the child is subject to limitations under RCW 26.09.191;
(5) The reasons of each person for seeking or opposing the relocation and the good faith of each of the parties in requesting or opposing the relocation;
(6) The age, developmental stage, and needs of the child, and the likely impact the relocation or its prevention will have on the child’s physical, educational, and emotional development, taking into consideration any special needs of the child;
(7) The quality of life, resources, and opportunities available to the child and to the relocating party in the current and proposed geographic locations;
(8) The availability of alternative arrangements to foster and continue the child’s relationship with and access to the other parent;
(9) The alternatives to relocation and whether it is feasible and desirable for the other party to relocate also;
(10) The financial impact and logistics of the relocation or its prevention; and
(11) For a temporary order, the amount of time before a final decision can be made at trial.
Unless the parents are operating from a shared residential schedule (50/50 plan) that affords each parent equal time with the child or children, then the custodial parent is entitled to a presumption that the intended relocation will be permitted. Id. The objecting parent may rebut the presumption by demonstrating that the detrimental effect of the relocation outweighs the change to the child and the relocating parent, based upon the 11 factors above.
Should the court approve the relocation, it will do so via a temporary order and parenting plan, pending completion of the case via an agreement or trial. If the court denies the relocation, then the child or children’s relocation is denied and will not occur.
Child or Children’s relocations are complex. As always, it’s advisable to consult with an experienced professional. Call us for a free consultation.