Relocation of Children in Washington State

By Erik Bjornson, Attorney at Law

Overview: The practical effects of a parent relocating with the child to another city, state or country can very adverse to the other parent. Because of logistics and lack of funds, the non-relocating parent may have the time they spend with their children drastically reduced.

The Washington State Legislature has recently passed specific laws concerning the relocation of a child in Washington State. There are now specific guidelines about the process when notice must be given regarding an intent to relocate a child, how one may object to the relocation and how the court will decide if the relocation should be permitted. The non-residential party often desires to place a provision in the final parenting plan that would restrict when and if a child could be moved.

The new relocations laws passed provide a more uniform approach for the courts to follow.

Initiating the process of relocation

Normally, the parent with whom the child resides must give 60 days notice to the other party whenever there is an intention to move the child to another school district. However, if the residential parent could not have known of move within this time, they must give 5 days notice.

The duty to properly object to a notice of intent to relocate

One is required by state law to object within 30 days of the intended move. In all practicality, the sooner the objection is made the better as the other parent and the child may become more committed to the new location.

Emergency exceptions to the notice provisions of the relocation law

An emergency could always be a basis for avoiding many of the requirements of the relocation law. Furthermore, Washington law allows for a delay of 21 days if the relocating person is entering a domestic violence shelter or is moving to avoid a clear, immediate and unreasonable risk to one's health and safety. However, the due process requirements of Washington Courts will eventually require a hearing on the matter before a permanent change is permitted.

General provisions

Depending on the facts present, a court may grant or deny a parent's wish to relocate during the objection period, the decision is largely in the discretion of the court. Generally, the relocation action in some respects is nearly as complex as a dissolution action. Temporary orders may be entered, ex parte and emergency orders may be granted as well depending on the circumstance.

In many ways, the new relocation act is very rigid requiring strict compliance with numerous deadlines. At the same time, the procedures involved are very similar to those present in any other modification or dissolution action. One attempting to relocate a child or defend against an attempt should remember the implications of the final orders entered in the divorce and the applicable legal procedures covering family law issues in court in Washington.

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