In Washington State, when a parent wishes to relocate with children, the residential schedule designated in the Parenting Plan may have significant legal consequences for the impending move. Do the parties have a traditional every other weekend schedule, where one parent is clearly the primary residential parent? Or do the parties have a joint custody type of arrangement, often termed as a shared parenting plan or 50/50 residential time? The type of Parenting Plan involved may influence whether a parent decides to pursue a move with the children or whether an agreement outside of Court can be had.
For parents with an every other weekend schedule or something similar (i.e., there is a clearly defined primary residential parent), the burden will be on the non-moving parent to block the move. When the primary residential parent under a Parenting Plan wishes to move outside of the children’s school district, Notice is required which triggers application of Washington's Child Relocation Act (CRA). The CRA provides a detailed process for parents intended to move with children. After Notice, once an Objection is made by the non-moving parent, a contested hearing will need to be held by the Court. At the hearing, the moving parent has a significant, often insurmountable built-in advantage, over the non-moving parent. This is called a "rebuttable presumption" that the move should be allowed. To overcome the presumption, the objecting parent must demonstrate that detrimental effect of the relocation outweighs the benefit to the child and relocating parent through an assessment of 11 statutory factors under the CRA. As a result, a tremendous, difficult burden is placed upon the non-moving parent to prove the harmful effects of the relocation, and as such, many primary residential parents are allowed to move with children, often to the heartbreak of an objecting, non-moving parent.
By contrast, for parents that have a substantially shared parenting plan or 50/50 residential time, the burden will be on the moving parent to obtain permission for the move. In 2017, Division Two of the Washington Court of Appeals determined the CRA does not apply when the children’s residential time is designated equal or substantially equal in the Parenting Plan, and when the intended relocation would result in a change in this designation. Since the CRA has been found NOT to apply in these circumstances, the moving parent must file a Petition for a Parenting Plan Modification in order to relocate with the children. In doing so, the moving parent must establish, based upon a substantial change in circumstances, that "adequate cause" for the modification exists. If the moving parent cannot establish "adequate cause", the petition will fail. This is a high burden to prove, and may limit or otherwise influence a parent's decision about a prospective move with children.
For any parent who is considering Relocation, Objection to such a move, or a Parenting Plan Modification action, understanding the appropriate legal approach is essential. Finding an experienced attorney who understands Relocation and Modification cases may be beneficial.
Family law litigation can be emotionally difficult and complex. Decisions made about each step of the litigation can affect you for many years. We have years of experience helping our clients through the difficulty of Relocation and Parenting Plan litigation and can help you through the process. Contact us today at (253) 838 – 3377 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org, to discuss about your situation.
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