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Legal Information: Washington

Custody

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Updated: 
December 5, 2019

If 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, 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.1

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 planned (intended) 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 personally within 30 days or within 33 days, if served by mail, of when the person received the notice of your intended move.2 If no objections are filed within the timeframe allowed, you may be able to move without further court action. You can read the law on our Selected Washington Statutes page, section 26.09.500. There is very specific information that must be included in the notice and specific 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? for more information.

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, which is 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.3

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.

1 R.C.W. § 26.09.450
2 R.C.W. §§ 26.09.430; 26.09.480(1)
3 R.C.W. § 26.09.480(2)

What 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.1

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.2 

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.

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

What 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.1

1 R.C.W. § 26.09.470(1),(3)

How will a judge decide if I can relocate with my child?

The law in Washington “presumes” that in most situations, a parent’s request to relocate will be allowed. This means that the judge will assume that moving with the child is in the child’s best interests. However, the other parent can object to the move and try to convince the judge to not allow the move. If a parent objects to the move, the judge will consider these factors when making a final decision:

  • the strength, nature, quality, and extent of involvement with the parents, siblings, and other people of importance in the child’s life;
  • any prior agreements between the parties;
  • whether it would be more harmful for the child to lose contact with the parent who is moving, or with the parent who is left behind;
  • whether either parent has parenting time restrictions due to domestic violence, sex crimes, or other offenses;
  • the reasons of each parent in seeking and opposing relocation;
  • the age and needs of the child, and what impact a move might have on the child’s development;
  • the quality of life and resources available to the child in either location;
  • the availability of ways to maintain a relationship with the left-behind parent;
  • any alternatives to relocation; and
  • the financial impact and logistics of the move.1

Note: If you and the other parent share “substantially equal parenting time” (45% to 55%), then the judge will not automatically assume (presume) that the move will be allowed. Instead, the judge will consider whether the move is in the best interests of the child.2

1 R.C.W. § 26.09.520
2 R.C.W. § 26.09.525