A general outline to child custody law in Washington

Given today's ever-changing world, it is common for people to routinely move for a wide variety of reasons - whether it be for a job opportunity or simply to be closer to family. However, if a person is attempting to relocate with a child, things may quickly get complicated, particularly if this person shares custody or visitation rights with the child's other parent.

Most states, including Washington, have specific laws in place that prevent parents from simply picking up and moving with a child subject to a child custody order or parenting plan. After all, to simply permit one parent to move with a child without proper review would not necessarily be fair to a noncustodial parent, which is why there is an established process for determining questions of child relocation in Washington.

Child relocation process in Washington

Before a custodial parent can relocate with a child, Washington law dictates that he or she must give notice of the proposed move to anyone entitled to visitation rights or residential time with the child, which normally includes the noncustodial parent. This notice typically needs to be sent at least 60 prior to the move and must include important information such as the proposed new address as well as the reasons for the relocation.

Importantly, a noncustodial parent does have the right to file an objection to any proposed child relocation within 30 days of receiving this initial notice - although, if the relocation is within the child's current school district the noncustodial parent cannot object to the move. During this 30-day objection period, a custodial parent generally cannot change the residence of the child in question without a court order or unless special circumstances exist.

If a noncustodial parent fails to object during his or her 30-window, Washington courts will typically allow the child relocation. Alternatively, even if he or she does timely object, it may still be an uphill battle as there exists a presumption under Washington law that any intended child relocation will be permitted. Essentially, this means that in order to stop the move the noncustodial parent must "rebut" the presumption by proving the detrimental effect of the move outweighs any potential benefit to the child and custodial parent. When making this determination, a Washington court can consider several factors, including, but not limited to:

  • The strength, quality, nature and stability of the child's relationship with each parent, siblings and other significant persons
  • The reasons of each parent for seeking or opposing any proposed move and the "good faith" of each parent in requesting or opposing the move
  • The age, development and needs of the child, and the possible impact the move or its prevention will have on the child's emotional, physical or educational development
  • The general quality of life and opportunities available to the child and to the custodial parent in the current and proposed locations
  • The alternatives to relocation and whether it is possible and feasible for the noncustodial parent to also relocate
  • Whether disrupting contact between the child and the custodial parent would be more harmful to the child that disrupting contact between the child and the noncustodial parent

Ultimately, child relocation disputes can get quite complex very quickly for both sides. Consequently, if you are a parent seeking to relocate with a child or a noncustodial parent attempting to stop a relocation, it is often best to speak with an experienced child custody attorney. A skilled attorney can explain your options and help ensure your rights, and the rights of your child, are protected throughout the entire process.