Washington

Questions and Answers about Washington's Relocation Law

Authored By: Northwest Justice Project LSC Funded
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Is this publication for me?

1.  If you have legal custody of your child[1], and you wish to move ("relocate") and take the child with you, Washington State law may require you to do certain things first.  This publication explains the law. 

If you are planning to move with your child[2], and there is an existing court order allowing the other parent or a third party (like a grandparent) visitation with the child, you must give that person advance notice of your plan to move.  Once you give notice, if the other parent objects to the relocation of the child, s/he must file an objection with the court within 30 days.

  • The laws on relocation are complicated.   Talk to a lawyer before deciding whether to move. 

            If there is no existing court order, or the court order does not give anyone else visitation rights, then the relocation statute does not apply to you.  You are free to move. Just be aware of custodial interference laws and UCCJA (jurisdiction) laws.  (See Section "C," below.)

This publication has no court forms.  If you are ready to file something with the court, use the right packet for your situation:

2.  If you are a noncustodial parent with the right to time with the child under a parenting plan[3], this publication has general information about how you can to try to stop the custodial parent[4] from moving with your child. 

3.  If you are a third party with some right to time with the child, see the section "Objections by Nonparents" for information on your limited rights in this instance.

  •   The law is complicated. Read this publication step-by-step. 

We have an older parenting plan.  Does the relocation law apply to us?

If the court entered your parenting plan or court order after June 8, 2000:  yes, the law[5] applies to you. Go to Section "G" to read what you need to do.

If the court entered your parenting plan before June 8, 2000, and does not say anything about relocation: yes, the law applies to you.  Go to Section "G" to read what you need to do.

If the court entered your parenting plan[6] before June 8, 2000, and it specifically talks about relocation, the law may apply only partially.  If any part of your current court order issued before June 8, 2000 directly conflicts with the statute, then the statute will not be applied to the issues covered by the order.

  • You should follow what your parenting plan says.  If you are not sure whether the relocation statute applies, talk to a lawyer.

We do not have a parenting plan.  Can I move with the child?

If there is no existing order regarding residential time or visitation with your child, then the statute does not apply.  You are free to move.  Just be aware of custodial interference laws and UCCJA (jurisdiction) laws. 

Custodial interference laws make it a crime to take or hide a child from the other parent with the intent to deny that parent access to the child for a protracted period, even if there are no parenting plans in place.  It is a more serious crime if someone moves the child from the state where s/he lives. 

Let the other parent know where you are going, and how to reach you to arrange contact with the child.  That should minimize the risk of your being charged with criminal custodial interference. 

  • If you feel that you cannot tell the other parent where you are going for safety reasons, talk to a lawyer right away.  

The UCCJA is a law that controls which court has jurisdiction to make custody and visitation decisions about your child.  It says that, in most cases, if a child moves out of state, the old state is still the child's "home state" for six months after the move as long as one parent still lives in the old state.  Any court action within the first six months after relocation will probably need to take place in the old state.  If you have no custody or visitation order, and the other parent stays in Washington and files a court case, you will need to respond and be ready to return to Washington.

The statute applies to me.  What do I do?

How do I relocate within the same school district?

If you plan to move within the same school district in which the child currently lives, you must provide actual notice to every person entitled to visitation with your child of:

  • your new address

  • your phone number

  • any new daycare provider or school

The notice may be in any form. You can tell the other parent on the phone, in person, by email, or hand them a note.  It is best to write a letter telling the other parent about the move.

Keep a copy for your records.  Even better: send the letter by certified mail or any form of mail that provides proof of delivery. 

  • No one may object to this type of relocation.

How do I relocate outside of our school district?

If you are the custodial parent under the parenting plan or custody order and you would like to move with your child outside of the school district in which you currently live, you must give notice of your intent to move to the noncustodial parent and to every other person entitled to visitation with the child. 

Generally, you must give notice at least 60 days before the date of your intended move in one of the following ways:

  • through personal service (by a third party who signs a statement that s/he delivered the notice to the other parent) or

  • by any form of mail that requires a return receipt.

    • Example 1:  60-day Notice - if you plan to move on September 1st, then you must give notice to the other parent on or before July 2nd.

    • Example 2:  You give relocation notice on July 1 that you plan to move to another city. You do not have the exact new address at the time of notice, so it is not included.  On July 15, you get a new address.  You must write a letter to the court and to everyone entitled to residential time or visitation telling them what the new address will be.  This shows the court that you are following the law in "good faith." This will help when the court is deciding whether to allow the relocation.

 

  • See below for exceptions to this 60-day notice requirement. 

Are there any exceptions to the 60-day notice requirement? I have an emergency and need to move quickly.

If you would like to move with the child but you do not have 60 days in which to give notice before the move, you must give notice within five days after you actually know you are moving.  Be ready to show that you could not reasonably have known about the move in time to give 60 days' notice, and that you cannot reasonably delay the move.

  • Example:  On November 1 you get a notice that the military is transferring you to a new location on November 30.  You must give notice by November 6. 

The following situations affect the timing and information that a moving parent must give in the Notice:

  • If you are moving because you are entering a domestic violence shelter, you may delay notice for 21 days.  The shelter does not have to disclose any confidential information about itself.
    • Example:  If you enter a DV shelter on July 1, you do not have to give notice until July 27 (21 days plus the five days discussed above). You do not need to include the confidential address.
  • If you are in the Address Confidentiality Program or have a court order allowing you to withhold specific information, do not include that information in your notice.

  • If you are moving to avoid a clear, immediate, and unreasonable risk to your health or safety or the health or safety of the child, you may delay notice for 21 days (plus five days discussed above).  This is the same as if you were moving to a DV shelter.

If you believe that your health or safety or the health or safety of your child would be put at risk by releasing certain information required in the notice, you may request an ex parte hearing with the court[7] to have that part of the notice waived. You have an ex parte hearing without giving the other person any notice of that hearing.  Usually this hearing is the same day you request it.  Our packet called Self-Help Guide to Getting an Ex Parte Order to Move with Your Children has more information.

After this hearing, the court may waive some or all of the required notice information, so that you would not have to give notice, or would not have to give all the details normally required. Or the court may provide some other type of relief that meets the needs of you and your child. 

Where do I file my notice?

To avoid any delay or confusion, file your notice in the same court that entered your divorce or parenting plan, if possible.   If you file your notice in a different county, you will first have to register your current parenting plan as a foreign order in that county, and then assigned a new case number for that county.

What happens if I do not give notice?

Failure to give the proper notice of relocation is grounds for sanctions by the court, including contempt.  If you move without giving any notice, or if you move after giving an improper notice, the court may impose penalties on you.  Such penalties could include ordering the child to move back to your old location in Washington (or to the other parent's home) and/or ordering you to pay the other person's attorney's fees and costs. 

If the court finds you in contempt, it could order jail time, fines or some other type of punishment. 

  • If the court finds you in contempt more than once in a three-year period, it can decide to grant custody to the other parent.

I have given notice.  When may I move?

Usually you should wait until 60 days have passed after giving notice before you MOVE, unless you fall under one of the exceptions discussed above.
In general:  

  • You may not move the child during the first 30 days without a court order, unless you can show that the other parent will not object. 

  • If no one files an objection within 30 days, the law permits the relocation. You may then go ahead and move. 

  • If someone DOES file an objection, wait until the judge has made a final decision about that objection, or until you get a court order allowing you to move on a temporary basis (see discussion below on Temporary Orders).

Technically, the person who objects to the relocation must schedule a hearing within fifteen days using a motion to restrain you from moving if s/he wants to stop you from moving temporarily before the court makes its final decision.  Even if the objecting person does not ask for a restraining order to stop you from moving, think carefully about moving before the court makes a final decision.  If you are unable to follow the existing parenting plan after you move, then you run a very serious risk of the court holding you in contempt.  (See above.) 

Even if you could follow the parenting plan, you run the risk of the judge thinking it was in "bad faith" to move after the other parent objected.  You also run the risk of having to move your child twice if the court's final order does not allow you to move the child permanently.

I am the noncustodial parent.  I have gotten a notice of intended relocation.  I do not want my child to move.  How do I object?

  • If you have gotten notice of a proposed relocation within the same school district, you may not object to the relocation. You may still modify the parenting plan if needed to make minor changes to visitation or to other provisions of the parenting plan. (Examples:  who provides transportation, or the spot where you exchange the child.)

           
If you have gotten notice of a proposed relocation outside of the current school district and you do not want your child to move, you must file an objection within 30 days of getting that notice.  You make your objection by filing a specific form with the court and serving copies on the custodial parent and all other persons who have visitation with the child.  (Our packet called Self-Help Guide for Objecting When the Other Parent Wants to Move with the Child  has detailed forms and instructions.)

You can also object by filing:

  • a petition for modification of the parenting plan pursuant to relocation or

  • some other court action, such as a motion for a temporary order, that would provide adequate grounds for relief

    • Writing a letter to the judge or to the relocating parent will not satisfy the law.  Use one of the methods in this paragraph.
    • The court cannot stop the adult from moving.  If you file an objection to stop the child from moving, be ready to have the child live with you, and to prove to the court that it would be in the child's best interest for that to happen.

 

If you do not object to the child moving, but you disagree with the new parenting plan that the custodial parent proposed, you can object to that parenting plan using the same process described above.

I am the noncustodial parent.  The custodial parent moved outside the school district without giving me proper notice.  Can I object?

Yes.  You can file an objection as described in section H.  You can also file a petition or other court action as described in that section.

Where do I file my objection?

You should file it in the county where the notice of relocation was filed (if you know), or in the same county where you were divorced, or where the parenting plan was filed.  If you file your objection in a different county than the one that entered the parenting plan, you will have to first register the order as a foreign order in that county, and then get a new case number for that county. 

If you live in a county different from where the old parenting plan was entered, and different from the county where the child lives, do not file it in your own county.  You must file the objection either in the county whose court entered the old order or where the child lives.

What happens if I do not object to the relocation?

If you do not object within 30 days of receiving notice to relocate, the court will permit the relocation.  The court will modify residential time or visitation as requested in the proposed parenting plan that you got with the notice. 

Even if you do not file an objection, you may still move to modify the custody order or parenting plan.   You can do so within the first 30 days after getting notice, or after the 30 days have passed.  You may simply agree with the proposed parenting plan that came with the notice, or you may ask for different provisions for visitation.

  • Example:           

  • You do not object to your child moving 35 miles away. You do want more overnight visits, or to change midweek visits to weekend visits.  You may agree to the relocation, but ask the court to change the existing parenting plan to include your changes.

How does the court rule on my objection?

If the noncustodial parent objects to relocation, the court decides whether to allow the child to move anyway.  The court will allow the relocation unless you have evidence that the negative effect of the move outweighs the benefit of the move to the child and the custodial parent.  The court considers these factors in making this decision:

  • 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;

  • past agreements between you and the other parent;

  • whether disrupting the contact between the child and the custodial parent would harm the child more than disrupting contact between the child and you would;

  • Whether either parent or any other person entitled to residential time with the child is subject to limitations under RCW 26.09.191;[8]

  • the reasons of each person for seeking or opposing relocation, and the good faith of each of the parties in requesting or objecting to the move;

  • the age, developmental stage, and needs of the child, and the likely impact the relocation or prevention of the move will have on the child's physical, educational, and emotional development, taking into consideration any special needs of the child;

  • the quality of life, resources and opportunities available to the child and to the moving parent in the current and proposed locations;

  • the availability of alternative arrangements to foster and continue the child's relationship with and access to you;

  • the alternatives to moving and whether it is feasible and desirable for you to move also; and

  •  the financial impact and logistics of the relocation or its prevention.

The law that governs how the court must decide on relocation is RCW 26.09.520.

Is there anything the court cannot consider in ruling on my objection?

The court SHOULD NOT consider:

  • whether the person seeking to move will give up and stay if the child is not permitted to move; or

  • whether you will actually move yourself, along with the child, if the child is allowed to move.  RCW 26.09.530.

The court should not ask you about those things. Nor should it ask you for evidence of these things when making a relocation determination.  After the court decides whether to allow the child to move, if there are any changes to the parenting plan that it still needs to make, the court may consider such evidence.

What happens after my deadline for objecting has run if I do not object?

If you do not object within 30 days of getting notice, the period for objection expires. The court will automatically grant the relocation. 

After the 30-day period expires, either parent may go to court and ask the court to sign the revised proposed parenting plan submitted with the notice as a court order.  If the court does not sign the revised proposed parenting plan as an order, it may be difficult to enforce in the future.

I am a grandparent/other relative.  May I file an objection and try to stop the move?

A court may not prevent relocation when the only objection is from a nonparent UNLESS:

  • that nonparent has visitation rights under court order, AND

  • the nonparent has served as custodian of the child for a substantial period of time during the previous three years.

Can I get a court order before the hearing on relocation happens?

If you have objected to relocation:  

and you are waiting for a hearing, ask the court for a temporary order restraining the child's move, or ordering the return of a child if the child has already moved . Our packet called Self-Help Guide for Objecting When the Other Parent Wants to Move with the Child has detailed information, forms and instructions.     

If you have given notice of intended relocation:

You may ask the court to grant a temporary order approving the intended relocation. (Our packet called Self-Help Guide to Following Washington's Relocation Law has detailed information, forms and instructions.)  The court will grant the order, before a final hearing, if it finds:

  • You gave the required notice in a timely manner or there is enough reason to enter a temporary order in the absence of compliance with notice requirements; AND
  • after examining evidence presented by both parties, it is likely that the court would approve the intended relocation of the child.

What if I need legal help?

CLEAR is Washington's toll-free, centralized intake, advice and referral service for low-income people seeking free legal assistance with civil legal problems. 

  • Outside King County: Call 1-888-201-1014 weekdays from 9:10 a.m. until 12:25 p.m.  CLEAR works with a language line to provide free interpreters as needed to callers.  If you are deaf or hard of hearing, call 1-888-201-1014 using your preferred TTY or Video relay service.

  • King County: Call 211 for information and referral to an appropriate legal services provider Monday through Friday from 8:00 am – 6:00 pm. You may also call (206) 461-3200, or the toll-free number, 1-877-211-WASH (9274). 211 works with a language line to provide free interpreters as needed to callers. Deaf and hearing-impaired callers can call 1-800-833-6384 or 711 to get a relay operator at no cost, who will then connect you with 211. You can also get information on legal service providers in King County through 211's website: at www.resourcehouse.com/win211/.

  • Persons 60 and Over: Persons 60 or over may call CLEAR*Sr at 1-888-387-7111, regardless of income.

 

3135EN

This publication provides general information concerning your rights and responsibilities.  It is not intended as a substitute for specific legal advice. 
This information is current as of September 2013.

© 2013 Northwest Justice Project - 1-888-201-1014.
(Permission for copying and distribution granted to the Alliance for Equal Justice and to individuals for non-commercial purposes only.)

 

Footnotes:


1. This publication uses the terms "custodial parent" and "noncustodial parent" to make things simpler.  The legal terms are longer and sometimes confusing:  the custodial parent is "the parent with whom the child resides the majority of the time."  The noncustodial parent is "the parent who has residential time or visitation."

2. Your case may concern more than one child.  In this publication, we say "child" instead of "children" for short.

3. We will use the term "parenting plan" in this publication for short to refer to your parenting plan OR your residential schedule.

4. This packet uses the terms "custodial parent" and "noncustodial parent" to make things simpler.  The legal terms are longer and sometimes confusing:  the custodial parent is "the parent with whom the child resides the majority of the time."  The noncustodial parent is "the parent who has residential time or visitation."

5. The statute that governs relocation begins at http://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=26.09.405

6. We will use the term "parenting plan" in this publication for short to refer to your parenting plan OR your residential schedule OR your custody order.

7. When we say "the court" in this publication, we mean the judge or family court commissioner who hears your case when it gets to court.

8. This is the Washington state statute (law) that says when the court can or must restrict someone's time with his/her child.  RCW stands for Revised Code of Washington.