Three bills are pending in the Washington State Legislature that would affect family law; two pending in the House could help to clarify parental rights during the divorce process, and the bill already passed by the Senate, now pending in the House, will make some clarifications to the post-divorce issue of relocation.  The two House bills are identical with the exception of a few more additions to the more recently filed bill which adds a provision dealing with mediation and new provisions regarding consideration of a parent’s employment schedule. One issue addressed in both House bills is a direction to judicial officers to start with the presumption that both parents have equal parenting skills.  Another issue addressed in both House bills is the criteria used by courts when allocating decision-making authority to one parent. The changes proposed in the Senate bill are in direct response to recent case decisions where courts have struggled with the application of the Relocation Act in shared parenting situations.

Bills That Could Impact Family Law

HB 1050  

  • The bill suggests changes to the criteria the court must consider when deciding whether to grant sole decision-making authority to one parent and must make written findings to support its decision. The bill directs that the court may not make any presumption in favor of one parent, solely because of his or her sex.  Two new criteria suggested by the bill are the child’s need for a frequent, continuing and meaningful relationship with both parents and the ability and willingness of each parent to perform needed parenting functions.

  • The bill also contains clarifications on criteria used by courts when making a decision on residential time with the parties’ children, and mandates written findings to support its decision.  This includes a prohibition against favoring one parent over the other, solely based on his or her sex, and a presumption in favor of an equal residential schedule. The parent asking for more than equal residential time would have the burden of proving, by clear and convincing evidence that equal time is not in the best interest of the child.  

  • The bill further suggests a provision that any party providing false information is subject to criminal prosecution for perjury.

  • Under the section addressing post-divorce modifications to parenting plans, a new criteria is proposed for the court to take into consideration whether one parent has violated the previously order schedule in a manner which demonstrates the inability or unwillingness to allow the child to have meaningful and frequent contact with the other parent.

  • The bill makes some changes to the court’s obligation to make a family law handbook available and easily accessible to the parties, and the obligation for counsel to provide a copy to the parties.

HB 1274

  • This bill Includes all of the same issues identified in HB 1050.

  • Also, it would require the parties to file a mediation form which indicate the issues on which mediation is being requested, with regard to parenting plans, and requires the court to consider precluding or limiting mediation to the issues agreed upon in the form.  

  • When deciding the residential schedule of the parties’ children, an additional criteria is suggested which would direct the court not to limit time with the children solely because of a parent’s employment schedule if the court approves of another responsible adult, designated by the working parent, who can provide care during that parent’s scheduled time.

  • When modifying a parenting plan, the bill suggests a provision which would allow the court to make adjustments to the residential schedule upon showing of a substantial change in the parent’s employment schedule.  

Sub. SB 5399

  • Provides that the Relocation Act applies to parenting plans where the parents have substantially equal residential time with the child. The definition of "relocate" is revised to add a change in residence in cases where parents have substantially equal residential time.

  • Eliminates the presumption in favor of relocation in cases where the parents have substantially equal residential time and requires the court determination to be based on the best interests of the child considering 11 non-weighted statutory factors.

  • Establishes standards for determining substantially equal residential time. Substantially equal residential time includes arrangements in which 45 percent or more of the child's residential time is spent with each parent, considering only the time spent with parents and not any residential time ordered for nonparents. The determination of the percentage must be based on the amount of time designated in the court order unless there has been an ongoing pattern of substantial deviation from the residential schedule; both parents have agreed to the deviation; and the deviation is not based on circumstances beyond either parent's control.

Although it may take some time before any of these changes take effect, it is essential to divorce planning to anticipate and prepare for presenting your case or negotiating outcomes based on the current law.  The Washington divorce lawyers with Molly B. Kenny, LLC, are ready, willing and able to help you plan your divorce or handle your post-divorce modifications in a professional manner which incorporates the latest improvements to family law in Washington.

Molly B. Kenny
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Divorce and Child Custody Attorney Serving Bellevue and Seattle Washington
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