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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.

General information and definitions

back to topWhat is a parenting plan and what are "parenting functions"?

In Washington, a custody/visitation order is referred to as a parenting plan.  A temporary parenting plan is used while the case is going on, before the final decision is made.  A permanent parenting plan assigns rights and responsibilities to each parent and usually includes the specific time the child will spend with each parent, which parent will make decisions regarding the child, how disputes between the parents will be resolved and any limits on parenting functions.*  The goals of the parenting plan are to provide for the child’s physical care, maintain the child’s emotional stability, provide for the child’s changing needs, set forth the responsibilities of each parent, minimize the child’s exposure to parental conflict, encourage the parents to avoid relying on judicial intervention, and to protect the best interests of the child.**

The parenting plan will give decision-making authority to one or both parents regarding the children's education, health care, and religious upbringing and will set forth a residential schedule (where the child lives).  However, regardless of who is given decision-making in the parenting plan, either parent may make emergency decisions affecting the health or safety of the child and each parent may make decisions regarding the day-to-day care and control of the child while the child is residing with that parent.***

The term “parenting functions” includes the decisions and functions that a parent performs that are necessary for the care and growth of the child.  Parenting functions include:

  • maintaining a loving, stable, consistent, and nurturing relationship with the child;
  • attending to the daily needs of the child, such as feeding, clothing, physical care, supervision, health care, and day care;
  • making sure the child is getting an adequate education;
  • helping the child in developing and maintaining appropriate interpersonal relationships;
  • making good decisions regarding the child's welfare, consistent with the child's developmental level and the family's social and economic circumstances; and
  • providing for the financial support of the child.****

A parenting plan can be issued as part of a:

  • Petition for Dissolution of Marriage (Divorce);
  • Petition for Legal Separation;
  • Petition to Establish Parentage (Paternity);
  • Petition to Modify Custody;
  • Petition for Non-Parental Custody, which is an action filed by a non-parent for custody of a child; or
  • Petition for a Parenting Plan, which is filed when paternity has been established but no parenting plan was entered.

* R.C.W. § 26.09.004(3),(4)
** R.C.W. § 26.09.184(1)
*** R.C.W. § 26.09.184(5)(a),(b) & (6)
**** R.C.W. § 26.09.004(2)

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back to topWhat are the advantages and disadvantages of filing a parenting plan?

There are many reasons why you might choose not to file for a parenting plan. You may decide that you don't want to get the courts involved or you may already have an informal agreement with the other parent that works well for you. You may think that going to court will provoke the other parent to seek more time with your child and more legal rights, which you do not want him/her to have.

However, in some cases, it may be a good idea to get a court-ordered parenting plan. For example, a parenting plan may reduce conflict with the other parent because the rights and responsibilities for each parent would be stated clearly in the plan.

Getting a parenting plan can give you:

  • the right to make decisions about your child;
  • the right to have your child live with you.*

It can also lay out clear guidelines on the following issues:

  • with which parent the child will live;
  • the amount of time the child will spend with each parent;
  • which parent will make major decisions about the child; and
  • how the parents will resolve major disagreements.**

A lawyer might be able to offer you advice about whether or not filing in court for a parenting plan is right for you.  To find a lawyer in your area, please see our WA Finding a Lawyer page.

* R.C.W. § 26.09.184(2)
** R.C.W. § 26.09.184

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back to topShould I start a court case to ask for supervised visitation?

If you are not comfortable with the abuser being alone with your child, you might be thinking about asking the judge to order that visits with your child be supervised.  If you are already in court because the abuser filed for visitation or custody, you may not have much to lose by asking that the visits be supervised if you can present a valid reason for your request (although this may depend on your situation).

However, if there is no current court case, please get legal advice before you start a court case to ask for supervised visits.  We strongly recommend that you talk to an attorney who specializes in custody matters to find out what you would have to prove to get the visits supervised and how long supervised visits would last, based on the facts of your case.

In the majority of cases, supervised visits are only a temporary measure.  Although the exact visitation order will vary by state, county, or judge, the judge might order a professional to observe the other parent on a certain amount of visits or the visits might be supervised by a relative for a certain amount of time -- and if there are no obvious problems, the visits may likely become unsupervised.  Oftentimes, at the end of a case, the other parent ends up with more frequent and/ or longer visits than s/he had before you went into court or even some form of custody.

In some cases, to protect your child from immediate danger by the abuser, starting a case to ask for custody and supervised visits is appropriate.  To find out what may be best in your situation, please go to WA Finding a Lawyer to seek out legal advice.

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Who can get custody

back to topWho can be part of the parenting plan?

The judge will try to incorporate both parents into the parenting plan.  However, if one parent is unfit, a judge can award all of the parenting time and decision making authority to the other parent.*

In addition, a non-parent with a significant connection to the child might be able to ask for custody. A petition for non-parental custody must be filed where the child lives, and only if the child is not in the physical custody of one of its parents, or if neither parent is a suitable caregiver.**  Custody will be determined in the best interests of the child.***  For more information see Can a non-parent file for custody of a child?

* R.C.W. § 26.09.191
** R.C.W. § 26.10.030(1)
*** R.C.W. § 26.10.100

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back to topCan a parent who committed domestic violence, sexual assault, or child abuse get decision-making powers or parenting time?

Whether or not a parent gets decision-making powers or parenting time with a child may depend on the type of abuse committed, whether or not the parent was convicted in criminal court for the acts of abuse, and whether or not the judge believes that the child was conceived due to a sexual assault.  It can also be relevant if a non-abusive parent lives with someone who has committed acts of abuse.

Any evidence of domestic violence or sex offenses:
In a permanent parenting plan, the judge cannot order mutual decision-making and the parent's residential time with the child must be limited if the judge believes that there has been:

  1. physical abuse, sexual abuse, or a pattern of emotional abuse of a child.* (Note: If the parent sexually abused the subject child, contact can only be allowed if a therapist/evaluator recommends it);*1 
  2. a history of acts of domestic violence (as defined by law); or
  3. an assault or sexual assault which causes grievous bodily harm, the fear of such harm, or that results in a pregnancy.*  
  4. Note: If the judge finds by "clear and convincing evidence" that the subject child was conceived due to sexual assault, the judge cannot grant the offending parent any parental rights, including residential time or decision-making responsibilities for the child.  However, the offender can still be ordered to pay child support.*2

If the parent himself/herself has not committed any of the acts described in numbers 1 - 3, above, but s/he lives with someone who has, then the parent's residential parenting time must still be limited.*3

The types of limitations that a judge can order on a parent's residential time include supervised contact between the child and the parent or completion of relevant counseling or treatment.  However, if the judge specifically believes (based on the evidence you present) that limitations on the residential time with the child are not enough to adequately protect the child from harm or abuse, the judge can deny residential time.*4

Convictions for sex offenses that did not result in subject the child being conceived:
If the parent has been convicted as an adult of certain sex offenses (listed here in section (2)(a)), or if the parent lives with someone who was convicted of these offenses as an adult or juvenile, the judge must limit the parent's residential time with the child.*5  If the parent was convicted as an adult of more serious sex offenses (listed here in section (2)(d)), then the judge has to assume that the parent is a danger to the child and cannot allow contact between the parent and child (unless the parent is able to convince the judge otherwise).*6  If the parent lives with someone who was convicted of these more serious sex offenses as an adult or juvenile, the parent can only have contact with the child when that person is not around (unless the parent can change the judge's mind).*7  If the parent succeeds in convincing the judge that contact between the parent and child does not pose any danger to the child, the judge might order limited contact with restrictions to protect the child.  To read about what a parent must show to convince the judge and the possible types of contact that could be ordered, see sections (2)(f) through (l) of RCW 26.09.191.

If a parent has been found to be a "sexual predator" as defined by law, the judge cannot allow contact with the child.  If a parent lives with someone (an adult or a juvenile) who has been found to be a "sexual predator," the judge can only allow contact that takes place when that person is not around.*8

* R.C.W. § 26.09.191(1),(2)(a)
*1 R.C.W. § 26.09.191(2)(m)(ii)
*2 R.C.W. §§ 26.09.191(2)(m)(iii); 26.26.0001(7)(a),(9)
*3 R.C.W. § 26.09.191(2)(b)
*4 R.C.W. § 26.09.191(2)(m)(i)
*5 R.C.W. § 26.09.191(2)(a),(b)
*6 R.C.W. § 26.09.191(2)(d)
*7 R.C.W. § 26.09.191(2)(e)
*8 R.C.W. § 26.09.191(2)(c)

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back to topWhat are other factors that may limit a parent's right to decision-making or residential parenting time?

A judge may limit a parent’s contact or responsibilities with the child if any of the following factors exist:

  1. neglect or non-performance of parenting functions;
  2. a long-term emotional/physical impairment that interferes with parenting functions;
  3. a long term impairment from substance abuse that interferes with parenting functions;
  4. absence/impairment of emotional ties between parent and child;
  5. the use of conflict by the parent, which creates the danger of serious damage to child’s psychological development;
  6. a parent has withheld the other parent's access to the child for a long period of time without good cause; and/or
  7. other factors that may negatively affect the child.*

* R.C.W. § 26.09.191(3)

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back to topCan a non-parent file for custody of a child?

Maybe.  In Washington state, a non-parent can file a non-parental custody action in the county where the child is a permanent resident or where the child is found, but only if:

  • the child is not living with either one of his/her parents; or
  • if the non-parent alleges reasons why neither parent is a suitable custodian.*

WashingtonLawHelp.org has frequently asked questions and instructions for filing a nonparental custody action.  You will also find other information packets that could be useful once the non-parental custody action has begun.**

For more information, you may want to talk to a lawyer.  See our WA Finding A Lawyer page for legal referrals.

* R.C.W. § 26.10.032
** WomensLaw.org has no relationship with WashingtonLawHelp.org and cannot say whether or not the information is accurate.  We provide it for your information only.

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How the custody process works

back to topHow will a judge make a decision about decision-making authority?

All decisions about custody are supposed to be based on the “best interest” of the child.*  A custody decision (as written into a parenting plan) will decide whether to give one parent sole decision-making authority or to give both parents mutual decision-making authority. Below, we discuss how a judge will decide what to order.

If the parents agree on how to divide up decision-making authority regarding the children's education, health care, and religious upbringing, the judge will approve this parenting plan if:

If the parents cannot agree on how to divide up decision-making authority in their proposed parenting plans, the judge can order sole decision-making authority to one parent if:

When deciding whether or not to order mutual decision-making, the judge will consider:

  • the history of each parent's participation in deciding issues regarding the children's education, health care, and religious upbringing;
  • whether or not the parents have a demonstrated ability and desire to cooperate with one another in making decisions regarding the children's education, health care, and religious upbringing; 
  • how close the parents live to each other to the extent that it affects their ability to make timely mutual decisions; and
  • the existence of any limitation under RCW 26.09.191 (Note: The "limitations" could be due to a parent committing domestic violence, sexual assault, or child abuse or other factors).****

If a parent or someone with whom the parent lives has committed domestic violence, sexual assault, or child abuse, the judge must consider these factors when deciding decision-making.  For more information, see Can a parent who committed domestic violence, sexual assault, or child abuse get decision-making powers or parenting time?

* R.C.W. § 26.10.100
** R.C.W. § 26.09.187(2)(a); see R.C.W. § 26.09.184(5)(a)  
*** R.C.W. § 26.09.187(2)(b)
**** R.C.W. § 26.09.187(2)(c)

 

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back to topHow will a judge make a decision about residential time?

All decisions about custody are supposed to be based on the “best interest” of the child.*  A custody decision (as written into a parenting plan) will decide what sort of residential parenting time schedule will be in place.  Below, we discuss how a judge will decide what to order.

When deciding residential parenting time, the schedule is supposed to encourage each parent to maintain a loving, stable, and nurturing relationship with the child, consistent with the child's developmental level and the family's social and economic circumstances.  As a first step, the judge will see if any limitations on residential time exist according to RCW 26.09.191 - (the "limitations" could be due to a parent committing domestic violence, sexual assault, or child abuse or other factors.)  If the limitations of RCW 26.09.191 do not force the judge to limit residential time, the court will consider the following factors:

  • the relative strength, nature and stability of the child’s relationship with each parent (Note: this factor is the most important);
  • each parent's past record of performing (and potential future ability to perform) parenting functions relating to the daily needs of the child, including if one parent has taken greater responsibility in doing this;
  • any agreements the parents have made;
  • the emotional needs and developmental level of the child;
  • the child’s relationship with siblings and other significant adults;
  • the child’s involvement with his or her physical surroundings, school or other activities;
  • each parent's employment schedule (and the judge should make accommodations based on these schedules);
  • the wishes of the parents; and
  • the wishes of a child who is mature enough to express his/her own preference as to the residential schedule.**  (Note: The judge would likely interview the child in chambers to find out the child's wishes.***)

If a parent or someone the parent lives with has committed domestic violence, sexual assault, or child abuse, the judge must consider these factors when deciding residential parenting time.  For more information, see Can a parent who committed domestic violence, sexual assault, or child abuse get decision-making powers or parenting time?

* R.C.W. § 26.10.100
** R.C.W. § 26.09.191(3)(a)
*** R.C.W. § 26.09.210

 

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back to topIf the judge won't give me time with my child, does s/he have to explain why?

If a parent or guardian asks for shared parenting time of a child and the judge denies the request, the judge will usually put the reasons s/he denied your request on the court record.  A judge can put his/her reasons on the court record by either stating his/her reasoning to you during a court hearing or by putting the reasons in writing.

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back to topDo I need a lawyer?

Although a person can represent himself/herself in court, it is highly recommended that people going through a custody case try to get legal representation.  The information we provide here should get you started and help you with basic questions you might have. However, custody issues are complicated, and parties frequently benefit from the help of a lawyer.  Unfortunately, you do not have a right to have a lawyer appointed for you in a civil case, but you may be able to talk to a lawyer for free or get a low-cost consultation for legal advice.  For a list of legal resources, please see our WA Finding a Lawyer page. 

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back to topWhere can I file for custody? (Which state has jurisdiction?)

Generally, you can only file for custody in the "home state" of the child.*  The "home state" is the state where your child has lived with a parent or a person acting as a parent for at least six consecutive months.  If your child is less than 6 months old, then your child's home state is the state where s/he has lived since birth. Leaving the state for a short period of time, such as going on vacation, does not change your child's home state.**

If you and your child recently moved to a new state, generally you cannot file for custody in that new state until you have lived there for at least six months.  Until then, you or the other parent can start a custody action in the state where your child has most recently lived for at least 6 months.  There are exceptions to the “home state” rule.  Please see Can I change the state where the case is being heard? for more information.

Here are some examples of the “home state” rule:

My children lived in Alabama their whole lives.  We just moved to Washington a few weeks ago. In my case, Alabama is my children's "home state".  If I want to file for custody right now, I will probably need to file in Alabama.

My children lived in Florida for six months.  We moved to Washington five months ago.  Because the kids haven't lived in Washington for six months yet, Florida is still the children's home state. If I want to file for custody right now, I will probably need to file in Florida.

My children lived in Michigan for their whole lives until we moved to Washington six months ago. Because the children have lived in Washington for six months, Washington is likely their "home state."  I will likely need to file for custody in Washington.

My children lived in Washington until they left to live with their father in Alabama two months ago. Because they haven't lived in Alabama for six months yet, their home state is still Washington.  If I want to file for custody, I can most likely file in Washington.

* R.C.W. § 26.27.201
** R.C.W. § 26.27.021(7)

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back to topCan I change the state where the case is being heard?

Maybe.  If you move to another state, you may be able to change the state where your custody case is being heard.  You will have to ask the judge that is hearing the case to change the venue or location of your case.  Sometimes your “home state” will allow another state to hear the case instead.*  However, before moving out of state, please talk to a lawyer for advice on whether or not this would be permitted based on your custody order.  Generally, a parent may have to get permission from the judge to move out of state.

Changing the state where a case is being heard is often complicated, and as with all custody issues, we recommend that you talk to a lawyer.  See WA Finding a Lawyer for legal assistance listings and for general information on changing the location of a court case, go to our Changing a final custody order section.

* R.C.W. § 26.27.201

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back to topWhat are the steps for getting a parenting plan from the court?

The specific steps for getting a parenting plan may vary, depending on your particular situation.  You will need to file the appropriate court action and fill out a series of forms including a proposed parenting plan, which includes a “residential schedule.”*

If the other parent or someone with whom the other parent lives has a history of acts of domestic violence, you can request that the other parent receive limited or no time with the child.  There are also other possible reasons why that parent’s time with the child should be restricted.**  Please see How will a judge make a decision about custody? for more information.

If you are going to file for custody without an attorney, you can find custody forms on our WA Download Court Forms page.  You may also be able to obtain self-help information from the Northwest Justice Project's CLEAR (Coordinated Legal Education, Advice and Referral) hotline at 1-888-387-7111.  You can also find contact information for legal services on our WA Finding a Lawyer page.  Custody matters are often complicated and if you can have a lawyer draft the paperwork for you, it might make the process much easier for you.

* For a copy of a “residential schedule,” see the WA Courts website or our WA Download Court Forms page
** R.C.W. § 26.09.191(2)(a)

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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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The effect of military deployment on custody/visitation

back to topIf the parent with primary parenting responsibility is in the military and gets deployed, what happens to that parent's custody or visitation?

If the parent with whom the child primary lives gets deployed or the military requires him/her to temporarily move a substantial distance away, the judge can issue a temporary custody order during that time period.  The temporary custody order will end no later than 10 days after the parent returns and provides notice to the child’s temporary custodian (caretaker).  However, if a parent/party files a motion that alleges that the child will be in immediate danger of being harmed if returned to his/her parent, the judge can hold an emergency hearing before the child is returned to that parent to decide where the child will live.  If there is no motion filed claiming that returning the child will cause harm to the child, the judge will grant a request to restore the previous residential schedule.*

* R.C.W. § 26.09.260(11)(a)

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back to topIf the parent with residential custody and/or visitation rights is in the military and gets deployed, what happens to that parent's custody or visitation?

If a parent receives military deployment orders that require him/her to move a substantial distance from his/her home or the military deployment orders would affect his/her ability to exercise parental or visitation rights, then the judge may be able to temporarily assign his/her custody and visitation rights to the child's family member (including a step-parent) or another person with a close relationship to the child.  The judge must also decide whether or not assigning residential time or visitation rights is in the child's best interest.  The judge cannot assign residential time or visitation rights to a person who would otherwise not be allowed to have those rights, such as a parent who committed child abuse.  For more information about in what situations a parent would not be able to get these temporary visitation or custody rights, see Can a parent who committed domestic violence, sexual assault, or child abuse get decision-making powers or parenting time?

Any assignment of custody or visitation rights during the deployed parent’s absence does not give the temporary custodian (caretaker) the right to file for a separate custody or visitation order.*

* R.C.W. § 26.09.260(12)

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back to topHow will a parent’s absence due to military duty be considered when making decisions about custody?

When making a decision about custody, the judge may not consider periods of time when a parent was deployed as time when that parent failed to exercise his/her right to residential time.*

Additionally, if a parent files a motion to transfer custody from the parent serving in the military to a non-military parent, the judge may not consider a parent’s temporary duty, activation, mobilization, or deployment (and the disruption to the child’s schedule because of a parent’s military duty) when determining if there has been a substantial change in circumstances.**

* R.C.W § 26.09.260(8)(b)
** R.C.W § 26.09.260(11)(b)

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Relocating with your child

back to topIf there is a parenting plan in place, can I relocate with my child?

There are different procedures to follow if you are planning to move somewhere that keeps your child within the same school district or if you plan to move somewhere that would change your child's school district.

Moving within the same school district
If you plan to move to someplace within your child's same school district (of where s/he currently lives for the majority of the time), you do not have to follow all of the notification steps referred to below.  Instead, you can give "actual notice" by any reasonable means to everyone entitled to residential time or visitation with the child under a court order.  The other parent (or other person with court-ordered visitation) has the right to file to try to modify the order if s/he wishes to do so but there isn't a formal notice of objection to the move that s/he could file.*

Moving to somewhere outside of the child's school district
If your child lives with you a majority of the time and you are looking to relocate with your child outside of your child's school district, you have to give notice of your intended (planned) move to every other person who is entitled to residential time or visitation with the child under the court order.  Each person has the right to file an objection with the court to try to stop the move and serve it upon you within 30 days (or 33 days, if served by mail) of when the person received the notice of your intended move.**  If the other parent does not object within the timeframe allowed, you may be able to move without further court action - you can read the law on our WA Statutes page - see section 26.09.500.  There is very specific information that must be included in the notice and requirements on how to serve the notice. Go to What type of notice do I have to give to the other parent if I want to relocate out of my child's school district?

Note: Unless you have a court order saying otherwise, a parent who is intending to move cannot move the child's principal residence during the time that the other parent has to object to the notice (33 days from when s/he received your notice).  Additionally, if the other parent asks for a hearing, which is scheduled for after that timeframe, you cannot move your child's principal residence while awaiting that hearing.***

For more information, the Northwest Women’s Law Center has the following self-help packets about relocation, which you may find useful: Self-Help Guide for Getting an Ex Parte Order to Move with Your Children; Self-Help Guide to Following Washington's Relocation Law; and Questions and Answers about Washington's Relocation Law.

* R.C.W. § 26.09.450
** R.C.W. §§ 26.09.430, 26.09.480(1)
*** R.C.W. § 26.09.480(2)

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back to topWhat type of notice do I have to give the other parent if I want to relocate out of my child's school district?

There is very specific information that must be included in the notice of intended relocation. You can read about what needs to be included in the notice by going to our WA Statutes page and reading section 26.09.440 of the law, sub-sections (2)(a) and (2)(b). 

There are also specific requirements about how the notice must be served.  The notice of the intended relocation, with all of the required information, must be:

  1. given by personal service or any form of mail requiring a return receipt to each person who should be given notice; and
  2. given:
    • at least 60 days before the date of the intended relocation of the child; or
    • if it is not possible to give at least 60 days' notice because you did not know (and could not reasonably have known) the information that you have to provide in the notice and it is not reasonable to delay the relocation, you must give the notice no more than 5 days after you know the required information.*

Note: There are exceptions to the notice requirements if you are entering a domestic violence shelter or if you are relocating to avoid a clear, immediate, and unreasonable risk to the health or safety of you or your child - in these cases, notice may be delayed for twenty-one days.  Also, if you believe that the health or safety of you or your child would be unreasonably put at risk by giving notice or by revealing certain information in the notice, you can file for an ex parte hearing and the judge may waive all or part of the notice requirements.  "Ex parte" means that the judge can hold a hearing or issue an order without the other party having prior notice or being in court.  If you are in the Address Confidentiality Program or you have a court order that allows you to withhold some or all of the information in the notice, you may not have to provide the confidential or protected information in the notice.** 

For information on any forms you may need to file to relocate or to object to a relocation, you may want to talk to a lawyer or ask the court clerk. You can find legal referrals on our WA Finding a Lawyer page and court contact information on our WA Courthouse Locations page.

For more information, the Northwest Women’s Law Center has the following self-help packets about relocation, which you may find useful: Self-Help Guide for Getting an Ex Parte Order to Move with Your Children; Self-Help Guide to Following Washington's Relocation Law; and Questions and Answers about Washington's Relocation Law.

* R.C.W. § 26.09.440(1)
** R.C.W. § 26.09.460(1)-(4)

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back to topWhat happens if I don't give notice before I move?

If you don't provide the required notice, you can be subject to sanctions (punishment), including being held in contempt of court.  Even if you don't provide the proper notice, the other parent can still file an objection to the intended relocation of the child in court just as s/he could do if you do give proper notice.*

* R.C.W. § 26.09.470(1),(3)

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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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