Relocating With Children – With or Without a Court Order

The laws in Washington State can be complicated when it comes to relocating with children, and it is important you do not relocate without considering the various laws and procedures at play. Please consult an attorney if you are the parent seeking to move with the children or if do not agree with the other parent moving with the children. 

In general, Washington law presumes a party is acting in good faith when making a decision to move, and the burden falls on the non-moving parent to overcome this presumption and prove it is not in the children’s best to move with the relocating parent. Below is a general guide to helping you determine what rights you have when it comes to relocation, whether you are the party wanting to relocate or you are dealing with a parent who wants to relocate. 

There Is No Court Order in Place – Can I Move with my Children?

A parent can move with the children if there is no court order in place, however doing so without permission of the other party can result in the court ordering the children to come back or finding the moving parent in violation of custodial interference laws, especially if you do not inform the other parent where you are moving or denying that parent access to the children. The repercussions of moving without a court order are serious and can result in the court limiting your parenting time. 

If you are moving within the same school district, you do not need permission to move and generally only need to inform the other parent by providing your new address. It is best to send notice in written form (i.e., a certified letter). The other parent cannot object and a court order is not necessary. 

If you are seeking to move out of the school district, you will need permission from the other parent and should come up with an agreed parenting plan that is filed with the court to avoid disagreements regarding a long-distance visitation schedule. 

If the other parent does not give you permission to move, you will need to file a motion with the court and explain why you are moving and how the move is in the best interest of the children. 

How Much Notice Must I Give If I Want to Relocate?

In general, you must give the other party 60 days’ notice prior to the intended moving date. You will need to personally serve the other party with a formal notice. There are some exceptions, such as if you are in immediate danger and can show you could not have known about the relocation within 60 days and the move cannot be delayed. This is a narrow exception and does not frequently apply. If you are in a domestic violence shelter, you may delay notice for 21 days and may be able to keep your new address private. 

We Do Have a Parenting Plan in Place and I Want to Move Out of the School District and/or Out of State. What Should I do?

If you have a current parenting plan in place, you will need to give 60 days notice before you plan to move if you are intending to move out of the school district or out of state. The other party will need to be personally served with the Notice of Intent to Relocate. 

Can I Move Before the 60 Days?

Generally, you need to wait 60 days before moving in order to allow for the other parent to file an objection to your move if they do not agree to the relocation. However, you may seek a temporary order from the court allowing you to move within the objection period. The court may allow a party to move if they can show the other parent will not object, and if no objection is filed within 30 days, the court will likely grant the immediate move. 

If the other party files an objection, the court will need to decide if you can move on a temporary basis. You should continue following the current parenting plan until the court decides to grant the relocation or not, or else you may be found in contempt for not following the parenting plan. 

If you are the parent objecting to the other parent relocating, you must file an objection within 30 days of being served the Notice of Intent to Relocate, and you must serve copies of the objection and supporting documents on the other parent along with anyone else who has visitation rights. If you do not file and serve your objection within 30 days of being served the notice, the court will grant the other parent’s request to relocate. 

What Factors Will the Court Consider When Deciding if the Relocation Should Be Granted?

The court considers many factors when deciding to grant a relocation. Under RCW 26.09.525, the court must grant the relocation unless the parent objecting can show that the detrimental effect of the relocation outweighs the benefits of the change to the child and the relocating person based on several factors in no particular order, which are: 

  • (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 seeking relocation 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; 
  • (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.

If the court grants the relocation, a long-distance parenting plan will be ordered by the court, unless the parties can agree on a parenting plan on their own.

Relocation cases can be complicated, and you should talk to a family law attorney in Vancouver, Washington if you are seeking to move with the children or wish to object to the other parent moving. 

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Every legal issue is very unique. Accordingly, the information in this blog is intended as general education material and not as legal advice. If you think you may have a legal issue, you should consult an attorney.