A parent with whom the child lives a majority of the time (residential parent) must comply with Washington State relocation law when it is their intention to relocate the children to a new residence. While the state may not impede the ability of adults to move, the courts can make determinations on whether children may be relocated. Such relocations must comply with the laws of the Washington State Relocation Act.How is the relocation process started?
In order to properly initiate a relocation action, all persons entitled to visitation with the child need to be properly served with a notice of relocation. The notice must be personally served on the other parties or by mailing requiring return receipt no less than 60-days prior to the date of the intended relocation, or within 5-days of knowing of intended relocation, if the relocating person could not have known 60-days in advance. The notice must include certain specific information such as the date of the intended move, the location of the new intended residence including phone number, school name and address, a proposed residential schedule and a notice that a written objection must be filed within 30-days to either the relocation or the proposed residential schedule. The proper notification forms can be found at http://www.courts.wa.gov/forms.Must I serve notice of my intention to relocate?
The requirements and methods of serving the notice to relocate may depend on the presence of factors that warrant exceptions. A relocating party may delay the service of the notice to relocate by 21-days if they are entering a domestic violence shelter due to threats from the other party; or they are relocating to avoid a “clear, immediate, and unreasonable risk to the health or safety of a person or child.” The relocating party may also seek an ex-parte hearing to request that all or part of the requirements to provide notice may be modified or waived. Additionally, if the relocating party is in a confidentiality program or has a court order which allows them to withhold their confidential information, such information will not be required to be disclosed in the notice of relocation. The party entitled to notice still retains the right to object to the relocation or the proposed residential schedule.What if I fail to serve the notice of relocation properly?
Failure to comply with the relocation statutes may result in a finding of contempt if the court determines there was not substantial compliance with the law. The court may also order the children be returned to the state until a further determination of custody can be made. Regardless of whether the non-residential party was given proper notice or not, they still retain the right to object to the relocation of the child. The relocation laws are complicated and have many exceptions and rules.What if I am relocating within the same school district?
When the relocation will be within the same school district notice must still be given to all other people entitled to residential time or visitation with the child. The form of the notice does not have to be as formal when the relocation is outside the school district and may be made by any reasonable means. Objections to the relocation will not be considered, but the other parties may still seek a modification, or adjustment, of the parenting plan if certain conditions are met. See Modification Of Child Custody.IIt has been more than 30-days since I properly served the required party, What now?
If the party requiring notice is properly served and does not object to the relocation, absent good cause within the required time, the court will consider their objection to the relocation waived. At that time the residential parent should file their notice of relocation with the court with proof of service and the revised residential schedule. They may then obtain an ex-parte order modifying their residential schedule in compliance with the one proposed by the relocating parent. Their revised parenting plan would then become the new residential schedule that the parties would follow. An ex-parte order approving the relocation may also be pursued before 30-days have elapsed since the date of service with proof that no objection will be filed and a copy of the notice provided and proof of service. The non-residential parent is entitled to the visitation provided in the revised parenting plan even if they failed to object to the relocation. A motion for contempt should fail if a party has not objected to the relocation, without good cause, but they may be able to file a modification of child custody under RCW 26.09.260. See Modification of Child Custody.The other party filed a notice of objection to the relocation. What happens now?
If the non-relocating party serves and files an objection to relocation within the 30-day deadline, the court will determine whether to allow the relocation. The first hearing set will be to determine if the court will allow the relocation of the children prior to a final hearing which will be held at a later date, often after the date of the intended relocation. One of two things will generally happen: 1) Temporary orders may be issued to restrain the relocation prior to a final hearing if, notice was not properly given and the other party was substantially prejudiced and the relocation occurred without agreement of the parties or in the absence of a court order. The court may also restrain the relocation if the court determines that it is likely that at the trial the court will not approve the residential parents request for relocation. If the relocation is temporarily restrained the parties will likely be required to follow their current parenting plan until the trial. 2) Temporary orders permitting the relocation prior to a final hearing may be issued if there was proper notice, or it was not required, and the court concludes that it is likely the court will approve the relocation at the trial. If this occurs, the court must also establish a temporary parenting plan that would be followed by the parties until the trial is held.How will the court make their final determination on the relocation?
The court will make a final determination on the relocation of the children with the presumption that the relocation will be permitted if the relocating party has provided their valid reasons for the move. The non-residential parent has the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that the move would be detrimental to the child’s interests and the benefits of the relocation are outweighed by the harms such a move would pose. The court will base its decision on the following 11-factors:
- Stability of child's relationship with each parent, siblings and significant others;
- Prior agreement of the parties;
- Would disrupting contact between the child and the primary residential parent be more detrimental to the child than disrupting contact between the child and the objecting person;
- Whether either parent or another entitled to residential time with the child is subject to domestic, physical or sexual violence limitations under RCW 26.09.191;
- The good faith or lack thereof of each person seeking or opposing relocation;
- The developmental stage and needs of the child and likely impact of relocation;
- A comparison of the opportunities available to the child and the relocating party in the current and the proposed geographic locations;
- Availability of alternative arrangements to continue access to the non-relocating parent;
- The alternatives to relocation and whether it is feasible and desirable for the other parent to also relocate;
- Financial impact and logistics of relocation or its prevention; For a temporary order, the amount of time before a final decision can be made at trial.
It should be noted that the court should not consider evidence whether the relocating party will give up their relocation if the child's relocation is denied.
This is a legal discussion not legal advice. With your future relationship with your children at stake, seeking the advice of experienced family law attorneys in the early stages is invaluable.Our attorneys are prepared to present your best case to the court, but will also work towards a win-win situation in cases where a compromise can be reached. Please contact our experienced Family Law attorneys for a free consultation.