As part of a divorce in Washington, you and your ex-spouse will reach an agreement or trial regarding the parenting of the children. This Parenting Plan is a Court Order that dictates the visitation schedule for the children between the parents. Notably, Section 13 of the standard Washington Parenting Plan form is dedicated to relocation. Under RCW 26.09.430, if you have substantially equal or more time with the children, you are required to provide specific and explicit notice of any desired relocation to your ex. Failure to do so might result in the removal of the children from your care.
If you have more than 50% or substantially equal residential time with the children, you must always provide notice of an intended move to your ex-spouse. If you are planning to move within the school district, then an informal notice will suffice. Merely providing updated address information by email or any other reasonable means will suffice. See RCW 26.09.450.
If you are planning on moving out of the school district, you must provide more specific information and using a particular court form. RCW 26.09.440 requires personal service or mail with return receipt no less than 60 days in advance of your intended relocation of the child. There are exceptions if insufficient notice cannot be avoided, but more time is always better than less. Currently, Washington offers form FL Relocate 701, which is the standard form to be used to give this type of notice.
If the parents do not agree about the relocation, the opposing spouse may object to any relocation if the move will be outside the school district. Moves within the school district cannot be stopped. Filing an Objection requires filing and service of additional Court forms including but not limited to the Objection about Moving form, FL Relocate 721. This objection forms the basis for the reasoning against the move. If this form is timely filed within 30-days, the next step is often a Motion to Prevent Relocation. If no objection is filed, the moving parent may relocate without additional Court Order.
In a relocation action, the Court will always refer to the “presumption,” which is incredibly important to the likely results of the case. Generally, if a parent has primary custody of the children, there is a rebuttable presumption that the relocation should be permitted. This is a BIG deal as the Court will have to lean in that party’s favor and will construe all evidence in their direction.
The Court will look at 11 separate factors to determine whether to allow relocation. The factors are equally weighted for the Court’s determination. They include:
(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 seeking relocation 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.
Even with a favorable presumption, relocation cases can be difficult to win. Knowing the best strategies to argue your position in Court is half the battle. The other half is understanding how to respond to objections that may seem quite reasonable. Working with an experienced litigator is a great option to ensure your case is handled properly. Call the attorneys at Magnuson Lowell PS for a free case evaluation.