The Final Parenting Plan
Two years ago, the parents (petitioner and respondent) went through an amicable divorce. In those divorce proceedings, a final parenting plan was entered establishing the residential provisions for the parties’ children. Under the plan, the petitioner has residential time with the children except the respondent has every other weekend with the children from Friday evening to Monday morning and every Tuesday and Thursday overnight with shared holidays and school breaks. The petitioner is considered the primary parent because the petitioner has the majority of overnights with the children in a calendar year.
The Relocating Parent
The petitioner has been offered a job in another State. The job offers better pay and better opportunity. With this new job opportunity and a parenting plan in effect, what must the petitioner do? Washington law requires specific notice requirements in the event a parent, here the petitioner, is going to relocate with the children. Generally speaking, notice must be given no less than sixty (60) days before the date of the intended relocation of the children by personal service or any form of mail requiring a return receipt. The notice must contain an address where the petitioner may be served during the period of objection (30 days), the reason for the relocation, and a statement setting forth the method by which the respondent may object as specifically set forth in RCW 26.09.440. The notice must also include new contact information for the children, the children’s new school/daycare, and a proposed parenting plan with a revised schedule. Provided the specific requirements of RCW 26.09.440 are met, the relocation of the children shall be permitted absent timely objection by the respondent.
The Objecting Parent
The respondent has been served with a notice of intended relocation by the petitioner. The notice states, in part, the children shall be moved to another State. The respondent does not want the children to move to another State. What must the respondent do? Take action immediately. An objection to the relocation (and proposed, revised parenting plan) must be filed and served on the relocating spouse (the petitioner) by personal service or by any means of mail requiring a return receipt within thirty days of receipt of the notice if the notice was personally served on the respondent or thirty three days if the objection is served by mail. There are specific Court forms the respondent must use when making the objection.
Will the Children be Allowed to Move?
Each case is different. Although the guiding principle in any matter involving children is what is in the best interests of the children, where a final parenting plan has already been established, different rules apply. If the primary parent (here, the petitioner) intends to relocate with the children, there is a rebuttable presumption that the intended relocation of the children will be permitted. However, a person objecting to the relocation (here, the respondent) may rebut the presumption by demonstrating that the detrimental effect of the relocation outweighs the benefit of the change to the children and the relocating person, based upon several factors. The factors the Court considers are as follows:
(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 (e.g., domestic violence, neglect, abuse);
(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.
Relocating with children or objecting to a notice of intended relocation where a parenting plan is in effect can be procedurally complicated. The failure to provide proper notice may be grounds for sanctions, including contempt of court. The failure to properly object may result in allowing the relocating parent and children to move as a matter of law, and without further Court action. Our Divorce & Family Law Group is here to help you navigate the process.
S. Scott Burkhalter, Beresford Booth PLLC (425.776.4100), www.beresfordlaw.com
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