Washington LawHelp

Questions and Answers about Washington's Relocation Law

Authored By: Northwest Justice Project LSC Funded
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A. Should I read this?

If you are your child's legal custodian, and you want to move ("relocate") with the child, you may have to do certain things first under Washington law.  If an existing court order gives someone else visitation rights, you must give that person advance notice of your plan to move.  A parent who objects to the child moving must file an objection with the court within 30 days.

*The relocation law is 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, the law does not apply to you.  You can 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, use one of these:

If you are a noncustodial parent with the right to time with the child under a parenting plan, this publication has general info about trying to stop the move. 

If you are a third party with some right to time with the child, the section "Objections by Nonparents" has info on your limited rights.

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

*"Parenting plan" here can also mean a custody order.   

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

*You can read the relocation law starting at RCW 26.09.405. RCW stands for Revised Code of Washington.

  • Parenting plans entered after June 8, 2000:  the law applies. Go to Section "G."

  • Parenting plans entered before June 8, 2000, mentioning relocation: the law applies.  Go to Section "G."

  • Parenting plans entered before June 8, 2000, specifically discusses relocation: the law may apply only in part.  If any part of it directly conflicts with the law, the law does not apply to the issues the parenting plan covers.

*Follow what your parenting plan says.  If you are not sure if the relocation law applies, talk to a lawyer.

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

If there is no existing order regarding residential time or visitation, the law does not apply.  You can move.  Just be aware of custodial interference laws and UCCJA (jurisdiction) laws. 

Even where there is no parenting plan, custodial interference laws make it a crime to take or hide a child from the other parent to deny that parent access to the child.  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 there are safety reasons you cannot tell the other parent where you are going, talk to a lawyer right away.  

The UCCJA is the law controlling which court has jurisdiction (authority) 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 there.  Any court action within the first six months after the move probably must take place in the old state.  If you have no parenting plan, and the other parent stays in Washington and files a court case, you must respond in and be ready to return to Washington.

D. The law applies to me. What do I do?

1. 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 every person entitled to visitation:

  • 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, sent by certified mail or any form of mail providing proof of delivery. Keep a copy for your records.   

*No one may object to this type of relocation.

2. How do I move outside of our school district?

If you are the custodial parent under the parenting plan and you want to move with your child outside of your current school district, you must give the noncustodial parent and every other person entitled to visitation notice of your intent to move. 
Generally, you must give notice at least 60 days before the date of your intended move in one of these ways:

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

  • any form of mail requiring a return receipt

*Example 1:  You plan to move on September 1. You must give the other parent notice on or before July 2.

*Example 2:  You give 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 you do not include it.  On July 15, you get a new address.  You must write the court and everyone entitled to residential time or visitation a letter with the new address.  This shows the court you are following the law in "good faith." This helps when the court decides whether to allow the relocation.

The next section explains exceptions to this 60-day notice requirement. 

3. What if I have an emergency and need to move quickly?

You must give notice within five days after you actually know you are moving.  You must show you could not reasonably have known about the move in time to give 60 days' notice, and you cannot reasonably delay the move.

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

Other exceptions:

  • You are going into a domestic violence shelter: you may delay notice for 21 days.  The shelter does not have to disclose any confidential information about itself.

*Example:  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 info in your notice.

  • If you are moving to avoid a clear, immediate, and unreasonable risk to your health or safety or your child's health or safety, 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 releasing certain information required in the notice would risk your or your child's health or safety, you may request an ex parte hearing to have that part of the notice requirement waived (canceled). You have an ex parte hearing without giving the other person any notice of the hearing.  Usually this hearing is the same day you request it.  Our packet called Getting an Ex Parte Order to Move with Your Children has more information.

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

*"The court" in this publication means the judge or family court commissioner who hears your case.

E. Where do I file my notice?

You should file it in the same court that entered your divorce or parenting plan, if possible.   If you file in a different county, you must first register your current parenting plan as a foreign order in that county, and get a new case number for that county.

F. What happens if I do not give notice?

This is grounds for sanctions (punishment) by the court, including contempt.  If you move without giving any notice, or after giving improper notice, the court could

  • order the child to move back to your old location in Washington (or the other parent's home)

  • order you to pay the other parent's attorney's fees and costs 

A court that finds you in contempt could order jail time, fines, or some other punishment. 

*A court that finds you in contempt more than once in a three-year period may award the other parent custody.

 

G. I have given notice.  When may I move?

Usually you should wait until 60 days have passed after giving notice before moving, unless one of the exceptions discussed above applies.

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, you may move. 

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

Technically, the objecting parent must schedule a hearing within fifteen days by filing a motion to stop you from moving temporarily before the court makes its final decision.  Even if s/he does not do this, think carefully about moving before the court makes a final decision.  If you cannot follow the existing parenting plan after you move, you run a very serious risk of being in contempt.  (See above.) 

Even if you could still follow the parenting plan after moving, the judge may think it was in "bad faith" to move after the other parent objected.  You might also have to move your child twice if the court's final order does not allow you to move the child permanently.

H. 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. You may still modify (change) the parenting plan if needed to make minor changes to visitation or other sections. (Examples:  who provides transportation; the spot where you exchange the child.)

If you have gotten notice of a proposed relocation outside 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 object by filing the Objection form with the court and serving copies on the custodial parent and everyone else with visitation rights.  (Our packet called Objecting When the Other Parent Wants to Move with the Child has forms and instructions.)

  • Writing the judge or relocating parent a letter is not enough under the law.

  • 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 would be in the child's best interest.

If you do not object to the child moving but disagree with the custodial parent's new proposed parenting plan, you can use this process to object to it.

I. I am the noncustodial parent.  What if the custodial parent moved outside the school district without giving me proper notice?

You can file an objection.  

J. Where do I file my objection?

You should file it in the county where

  • the notice of relocation was filed (if you know) OR

  • you were divorced OR

  • the parenting plan was filed

If you file your objection in a different county than the one that entered the parenting plan, you must first register the parenting plan as a foreign order in that county, and get a new case number for that county. 

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

K. What happens if I do not object to the relocation?

If you do not object within 30 days of getting the notice to relocate, the court will permit the move.  The court will make the changes requested in the custodial parent's proposed parenting plan that came with the notice. 

Even if you do not file an objection, you may still move to modify (change) 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 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 the weekend. 

 

L. How does the court rule on my objection?

The court must decide whether to allow the child to move anyway.  The court will allow the move unless you have evidence that the negative effect of the move outweighs the benefit of the move to the child and custodial parent.  In making this decision, the court considers:

  • 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 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 time with the child is subject to limitations under RCW 26.09.191.

  • Each person's reasons for wanting or objecting to the move, and their good faith in asking for or objecting to the move.

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

  • The quality of life, resources and opportunities available to the child and custodial 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 you can and should also move.

  •  The financial impact and logistics of the move or its prevention.

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

M. Is there anything the court cannot ask about?

The court SHOULD NOT consider:

  • Whether the custodial parent will give up and stay if the child is not allowed to move.

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

After the court decides whether to allow the child to move, the court may consider this evidence if it must still make changes to the parenting plan.

N. 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 court will automatically grant the relocation. 

After the 30-day period expires, either parent can ask the court to sign and enter the revised proposed parenting plan submitted with the notice.  If you do not do this, it may be hard to enforce the new parenting plan.

O. I am a grandparent/other relative.  May I object to the move?

A court may not prevent relocation when only a nonparent objects UNLESS both of these are true:

  • the nonparent has court-ordered visitation rights.

  • the nonparent has been the child's custodian for a good part of the past three years.

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

Yes.
If you have objected to relocation and are waiting for a hearing, ask for a temporary order preventing the child's move OR ordering the child's return if s/he has already moved. Our packet called  Objecting When the Other Parent Wants to Move with the Childhas more info, forms, and instructions.          

If you have given notice of intended relocation, you may ask for a temporary order approving the move. (Our packet called  Following Washington's Relocation Law has more info, 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, even if you did not, there is still enough reason to enter a temporary order; AND

  • After examining both parties' evidence, it is likely the court would approve the move.

*In some limited circumstances, a moving parent may be able to get an ex parte order allowing the move before the 30 days have passed.   See our packet  Getting an Ex Parte Order to Move with Your Children

Q. 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 9:15 a.m. until 12:15 p.m. 

  • 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). 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.

Deaf, hard of hearing or speech impaired callers can call CLEAR or 211 using the relay service of their choice.

211 and CLEAR will conference in interpreters when needed at no cost to callers. 

Free legal education publications, videos and self-help packets covering many legal issues are available at www.washingtonlawhelp.org.

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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 October 2016.

© 2016 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.)

Last Review and Update: Nov 01, 2016
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