In today’s modern world, long-distance moves are commonplace. But what happens when Mom gets a job in Portland and Dad must stay behind in Washington? Out-of-state relocation cases are one of the most emotional and hotly contested types of cases a family law judge will ever hear. For this reason, in Washington, the custodial parent—or the primary residential parent—is required to notify the noncustodial parent should they want to relocate anywhere outside the child’s current school system. The intent behind the law is to afford the noncustodial parent an opportunity to be heard in court should they oppose the move. This notice is also required of both parents when the parenting plan is a shared custody (50/50) arrangement.
How Do I Notify the Non-Custodial Parent?
In general, you must send the noncustodial parent written notice at least 60 days before the proposed relocation. Proper service includes personal service or through mail. For mail, the law requires a return receipt. The Washington parental relocation laws require you to give the other parent very specific information. You must include:
- Your reason for moving;
- Your new address;
- Your new phone number;
- The children’s new school or daycare; and
- If the move will affect the current parenting or custody order, a new proposed parenting plan or visitation schedule.
You also have to include specific language, provided in Revised Code of Washington 26.09.440. This is to inform the other parent that the proposed relocation and revised parenting schedule will be adopted unless they object within 30 days. The State of Washington provides a form you can use. However, it’s a good idea to consult with an attorney to make sure your notice fulfills all legal requirements.
What Happens After I Notify the Noncustodial Parent?
The noncustodial parent will have 30 days to object. However, parents can always agree to the proposed move. If both parents consent to the child moving and agree on a new parenting plan, the court will likely approve the new custody arrangement and permit the move.
What Happens If the Noncustodial Parent Objects to the Move?
When the noncustodial parent properly objects to the move, you will have to have a hearing before the court, and it will decide. In Washington, unless the parties exercise substantially equal parenting time, courts will generally presume the custodial parent’s proposed relocation to be in the child’s best interest. However, the other parent can attempt to rebut that presumption. At the hearing, the court will consider various factors including:
- The strength, nature, quality, and extent of involvement with the parents, siblings, and other people of importance in the child’s life;
- Any prior agreements between the parties;
- Whether it would be more harmful for the child to lose contact with the parent who is moving or with the parent who is left behind;
- Whether either parent has parenting time restrictions due to domestic violence, sex crimes, or other offenses;
- The reasons of each parent in seeking and opposing relocation;
- The age and needs of the child and what impact a move might have on the child’s development;
- The quality of life and resources available to the child in either location;
- The availability of ways to maintain a relationship with the left-behind parent;
- Any alternatives to relocation; and
- The financial impact and logistics of the move.
If your ex-spouse objects to your relocation, obtaining a competent lawyer is critical. They will be able to advise you on the best strategies to get the outcome you want.
What Happens If I Fail to Notify the Other Parent Before I Relocate?
Custodial parents must remember that failing to follow Washington’s parental relocation laws carries consequences. These include potential loss of custody, parenting time, contempt of court, and even imprisonment. Moreover, if you don’t provide—or at least attempt to provide—the required notice before you move out of state, you may be deemed to be in violation of both federal and state child kidnapping laws.
In addition, if you violate a prior court custody order, you may be held to be in contempt of court. Finally, the noncustodial parent may successfully argue that the violation constitutes “custodial interference” and that they should be made the custodial parent.
What Happens If the Noncustodial Parent Wants to Relocate?
Sometimes circumstances require a noncustodial parent to relocate outside the child’s school system. Washington parental relocation law does not require a noncustodial parent to provide notice to the other parent or obtain court approval before relocating to a new residence. However, a noncustodial parent in Washington must keep in mind that the court is not going to require the custodial parent (or child) to abide by a parenting plan that places an undue burden on their day-to-day lives.
What Constitutes an Undue Burden on the Custodial Parent and Child?
Should a noncustodial parent relocate 45 minutes away and the custody order provides for bi-monthly weekend visitation with the child, it would be reasonable to preserve the current parenting plan because it’s not disruptive or harmful to the child or custodial parent. However, should the noncustodial parent relocate to another state, the court will likely find it impossible to continue the current visitation schedule. In this event, it would be advantageous for both parties to work together to settle on a fair parenting plan. If cooperation is unfeasible, the parenting plan will need to be modified.
Preparing for the Hearing
The parents should prepare for the court hearing by preparing a detailed visitation schedule that stipulates how the parents will handle transportation and related expenses. Parents must keep in mind that the court will seek to minimize any disruption to the child’s day-to-day schedule. For example, if the increased travel distance requires air travel, a court would likely reject a parenting plan providing for visitation every other weekend. In this situation, the child will likely reside with the custodial parent during the school year. The relocating noncustodial parent can expect increased visitation during summer break and holidays.
Should I Hire an Attorney?
Parental relocation is probably the most contentious and complex of all custody disputes. Courts must balance the parental rights of each parent (and their right to travel) with the best interest of the child. This can lead to heartbreak when the noncustodial parent ends up with substantially less visitation time than they had before.
Whether you’re a custodial or noncustodial parent, the legal team at Blado Kiger Bolan, P.S., can fight for your parental rights. Contact us today to talk to one of our knowledgeable and caring lawyers. We can assess your case and advise you as to your next best move. Call us directly or contact us online today for an initial consultation.