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Know the Laws: Washington

UPDATED August 10, 2017

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WomensLaw.org strongly recommends that you get help from an organization in your area before proceeding with court action.  Go to our WA Where to Find Help page to find contact information for legal services programs.

After an order is in place

back to topCan I get financial support for myself and my children?

If you are the primary caregiver for your child, the judge can order the other parent to pay reasonable support to you (if you are married) and to your children.  Child support guidelines help the judge determine how much child support a parent will be obligated to pay.  You can find the guidelines in section 26.19.020 of the Washington Domestic Relations Code.

You can file for child support as part of a court action or you can ask the Division of Child Support to set child support.*

* R.C.W. § 26.19.050

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back to topCan a parent who does not have custody have access to the child's records?

A parent who does not have parenting time with the child has the same access to the medical, dental, school, and other records of the child as the custodial parent unless the judge has entered an order to the contrary.*

* R.C.W. §§ 26.09.225, 26.10.150

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back to topIf the other parent is not following the parenting plan, what can I do?

If the other parent is not following the plan, you could file a petition for contempt of court with the court.  In a petition for contempt of court, you are asking a judge to say that the other parent violated the parenting plan and to order the other parent to follow the plan and/or punish the parent for failing to follow the order.  You will probably need to petition the same court that gave you your parenting plan even if you have moved.

If the court finds that the other parent has violated the parenting plan, the court can order that parent to give you additional time with the child, pay your attorneys’ fees, and pay a fine.* 

However, it is important to remember that even if the other parent is not following the parenting plan, it does not excuse you from following your obligations.

* R.C.W. § 26.09.160

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back to topIf a parenting plan is already in place, how can I get it changed?

Because parenting plans are decided in the best interest of the child, an order is not usually permanent.  If you have a parenting plan already in place, you can ask the judge to make changes or modify the plan.  The general rule is that you can only ask to change a parenting plan if there has been a "substantial change in circumstances" since your last hearing.*  In Washington state, a charge of domestic violence may constitute a substantial change in circumstances.  If domestic violence has occurred, changing the parenting plan may be necessary to protect the best interests of the child.  You will have to show that the child’s environment is harmful to his/her physical, mental, or emotional health.*1  The judge will also restrict a parent’s time with the child based on a parent’s sexual assault convictions, or the sexual assault convictions of a person living with a parent.*2  The judge may also change the parenting plan if the parent who does not have primary custody fails to exercise his/her right to visitation for a year.*3

In addition, if both parents agree on the modification, the court is likely to grant the modification without a substantial change in circumstances.*4 

Note: If the judge finds that a motion to modify an existing parenting plan was made in bad faith, the party who filed the motion will be responsible for the court costs and attorney’s fees of the other party.*5

To change a parenting plan, you will need to go to the court that issued the order (even if you have moved).  You will need to file a motion for a change in the parenting plan and an affidavit which states the facts supporting the request.  The other parent will then receive a copy of these documents so that s/he has the opportunity to file a response, or tell his/her side of the story. The judge will then make a decision based on these affidavits about whether or not you have shown adequate cause to have a hearing.  If the judge decides you have shown adequate cause, a hearing will be scheduled so that the judge can make a decision on your motion (request).*6 

If you are trying to change, get rid of ("vacate"), or enforce a part of an order pertaining to custody or visitation of a child, the judge may order the other parent to pay your attorney and court fees at your request.  In figuring out whether to award fees and costs, the judge will look at the financial situation of you and the other parent and whether you have acted in good faith.*7

As with all custody issues, we recommend that you talk to a lawyer about this. Go to the WA Finding a Lawyer page to find a list of legal resources in Washington.

* R.C.W. § 26.09.260(1)
*1 R.C.W. § 26.09.260(1)-(2)(c)
*2 R.C.W. §§ 26.09.260(4); 26.09.191
*3 R.C.W. § 26.09.260(8)(a)
*4 R.C.W. § 26.09.260(2)(a)
*5 R.C.W. § 26.09.260(12)
*6 R.C.W. § 26.09.270
*7 R.C.W. § 26.09.160

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WomensLaw.org would like to thank the Northwest Women's Law Center for their help with this material.

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