Relocating Out of Washington State After Divorce With Children

March 1, 2022

Many people want to relocate to another state after a divorce.  This process can get very complicated, especially if there are children involved or the divorce has not finalized.  The laws vary depending on what state you’re in, so you should always make sure that you are following local regulations. You should always speak with a family law attorney first before you take the leap. Ideally, you should wait until your divorce is finalized and you have a parenting plan in place before you move to another state with your children. It can be unfair and hurt the other parents’ relationship with their children if you just jump and move before you get a divorce or a parenting plan.

On top of this is can be damaging for your children’s mental health because of the drama and conflict associated when one parent does not want to cooperate and settle out a fair custody situation.

Sometimes, a parent’s decision to move can backfire and result in the other parent getting full custody, because the court may view this as wrongful conduct. However, if they do so before they file divorce proceedings then it is not illegal as both parents have the right to care for the children.

The only way to legally prevent an unwanted move or custody situation is to take your case to court.  This article will help you understand how best to proceed.

The UCCJEA Law in Washington

In Washington, there are laws in place that the sole provider must abide by under the UCCJEA (Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act).

There are two types of custody which are “sole” and “joint”. Sole custody is given to one of the parents who will have the final say where the child will live, go to school, and so on. Joint, on the other hand, is when both parents have a say in their child’s life.  All decisions must be made together. When parents do not agree in regard to their children, they generally will have to go through the court to make a change. The court will always try to rule based on the perceived best interests of the children and will always lean towards a change that is least disruptive for them.

If the parent with a greater amount of custody (called the custodial parent) simply wants to move in another area that is within the existing school district, then the other parent (non-custodial) has no right to object. They must always provide notice to the other parent when planning a move. When the custodial parent wants to make a move, they must provide a 60 day written notice to the other parent. Sometimes, an emergency notice can be sent which only has a five day requirement; this is common among military families. They must provide proof that they did not have knowledge of the move prior to this.

If the custodial parent does not provide a notice, then the court can take do the following:

  • The court can discipline the other party by requiring them to pay the other parents attorney fees
  • The court can make them move back to the original location of custody
  • And the court can also hold the party in contempt

The non-custodial parent has 30 days within the time of receiving the notice to object to it.  This response is filed on a court document and it explains why they are opposing the move and providing details as to how the move is not in the best interests of the child. They cannot just write the judge a letter.  Rather, they must take formal action to oppose the move.

Next, the judge will schedule a hearing to decide what will be best for the child. Also, the non-custodial parent should file a petition to modify the parenting plan or a motion for a temporary order which will help the court come to a decision and hear everyone’s side of things. After this, the judge will issue a written order determining the changes that will be made.

Factors the Courts Consider When Deciding Whether a Parent Can Relocate

There are many factors that the judge will take into consideration when they receive the notice that a parent wants to move to another area or another state with their child or children.

These include:

  • Any prior arrangement that the family had previously
  • If the change will be detrimental to the child or the parents relationship with them
  • The amount of involvement from each parent, any negative history that either parent has with the children such as abandonment or neglect
  • The financial impact of the move, as well as any other details associated with the case.

Many times, the court will want to avoid the hassle of the parents moving far away from each other because they are trying to create the best situation possible for the children. They can run into trouble when planning the custody agreement and the visitation order, which details the places and times the other parents will be able to legally see their children. If you file your divorce in one place, then you will have to do all the court requirements through that county or state. You might be expected to be at the court hearings in person so you should take that into consideration, especially as Covid-era restrictions begin to relax and courts begin to require people to appear in person as opposed to Zoom.

If you plan on moving counties or out of state during the divorce proceedings, then it will require a court order.  When you are making a parenting plan, then the “home state” will typically be in the state where it was filed.  The home state is where the children have lived with the custodial parent for at least six consecutive months before the court proceedings have taken place when determining custody between parents.

If the child is less than six months old, then this would be the state where the child has lived since birth. Many parents will want to have the other party move back to the home state if they have their children with them. Family courts will generally give the other parent a choice between moving back to the home state with the children or allowing the parent to stay where they are but turn over the children to their ex.

If the custodial parent is able to legally move out of state with the children, then everything in the current parenting plan must be abided by.   What is a parenting plan?

The Parenting Plan Described

The parenting plan will detail how much custody each parent has, a visitation schedule, the amount of child support that will be paid, and it will determine which parent is custodial and non-custodial.  The non-custodial parent will still be obligated to make child support payments despite not regularly having visitation with their children. Child support includes expenses that should cover the basic necessities like food, clothing, shelter, and medical care. In Washington, the amount of child support that has to be paid is determined by the income of each parent. The basic amount of child support that is required may not be enough to cover other expenses that the child requires. Additional expenses can include:

  • Cost of day care
  • Extracurricular activities such as sports, healthcare costs such as insurance premiums and prescription costs, as well as private school tuition.
  • The party that has to pay child support is obligated to pay until the child’s 18th birthday or upon graduation of high school.

It can be very difficult for the non-custodial parent to deal with their children relocating. If their ex left with the children without telling them, this can make the other parent very upset, angry, or depressed. It can be very disheartening when your children are ripped away from you after living with them and caring for them daily.

With your children now being very far away from you, it will take some serious planning to be able to have visitation with them. It will also become very costly when you have to travel to another state to see them. Many times the court will schedule a larger block of time that you will have with your children, such as having them come stay with you in your home state for some months.

The Importance of Being in Contact with Your Children

It is very important that you stay involved in your children’s lives consistently if you want to maintain a good relationship with them. If you are forced to do long distance then you can do this by regular phone calls and Zoom. You should still be very engaged encouraging them to tell you about school, activities that they are involved in, their favorite TV shows or video games, their friends, and helping out with homework. Despite being far away from your children, you will still be able to keep a close relationship with them because a lack of engagement and communication will cause damage and create resentment in your children.

You should be regularly involved and consistent so your children will be able to depend on you to be there for them. It can help if you can schedule specific times to speak with them so the other parent will be able to arrange it and make sure that it is not missed or forgotten. The more actively engaged you are with your children when they are young the better off they will be as adults. If both parents can reason with each other, work hard to get along, and stay involved in their children’s lives then they will be at a greater chance of success later in life. A supportive upbringing can result in the child being more loving, open in communication, a better listener, as well as have positive habits and behavior.

How people go about life in adulthood can be defined how their childhood went. Have a deep understanding for the needs of your children and you will be surprised at how successful they can become as they grow.

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