Relocation is one of the hardest issues to resolve. Relocation cases are more likely to go to trial than other types of family law issues because it’s very difficult to find common ground when there are hundreds – if not thousands – of miles in between two parents.
So what do you do if your ex-spouse tells you she wants to move to Texas with the kids?
First, if you are the parent who wants to relocate, make sure you file a notice of relocation. The outline for this is found in that mandatory section of your parenting plan – paragraph 3.14, which cites RCW 26.09.430 through 26.09.480. If you are the non-relocating parent, make sure you file an objection to the relocation, and get ready for a modification, because you’re going to need a new parenting plan.
There is a presumption in favor of the parent who has primary residential custody of the child(ren). This is based on the idea that continuity for the child is often best, meaning the child should stay with the parent they have primarily been living with but for other circumstances.
When the notice first comes through, if you are the non-relocating parent, it’s wise to file for Temporary Orders, and a Temporary Order Restraining the move. The burden is on you, as the relocating parent, to file a motion for this restraint. The relocation act states that if the non-relocating parent does not seek a restraining order within 15 days, the automatic restraint on relocation expires.
At the temporary hearing as well as ultimately at trial, the court is required to consider all 11 factors found in RCW 26.09.520. Here’s the list:
(1) 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;
(2) Prior agreements of the parties;
(3) Whether disrupting the contact between the child and the person with whom the child resides a majority of the time would be more detrimental to the child than disrupting contact between the child and the person objecting to the relocation;
(4) Whether either parent or a person entitled to residential time with the child is subject to limitations under RCW 26.09.191;
(5) The reasons of each person for seeking or opposing the relocation and the good faith of each of the parties in requesting or opposing the relocation;
(6) The age, developmental stage, and needs of the child, and the likely impact the relocation or its prevention will have on the child’s physical, educational, and emotional development, taking into consideration any special needs of the child;
(7) The quality of life, resources, and opportunities available to the child and to the relocating party in the current and proposed geographic locations;
(8) The availability of alternative arrangements to foster and continue the child’s relationship with and access to the other parent;
(9) The alternatives to relocation and whether it is feasible and desirable for the other party to relocate also;
(10) The financial impact and logistics of the relocation or its prevention; and
(11) For a temporary order, the amount of time before a final decision can be made at trial.
Overall, the court is looking for a breakdown of who has done what for the kids, and where the kids will have the most continuity in their lives. Make sure you are explaining the history of your parenting plan, what the current schedule is, and what the new schedule would be if there is a relocation. Explain if the current parenting plan is being followed, and which parent has been more involved with the children’s lives. If you have a 50-50 parenting plan, there’s going to be a tough road ahead with a tough decision. According to legislative history, the Relocation Act does apply to 50-50 plans, but then there is no presumption.
Facing a relocation issue can be emotional, stressful, and particularly nuanced. I would definitely recommend at least visiting an attorney to understand all the ins and outs of the relocation laws, and be prepared for a tough battle ahead.