It is understandable if you're going through a divorce in Washington and wish to relocate with your kids out-of-state. It could be to move on from your ex, for job needs, to move back in with your parents, or for other reasons. However, since minors are involved, relocating out-of-state can result in a complicated situation.
The law guiding child relocation during divorces may vary across states and we will explain what applies in the state of Washington. However, it is advisable to consult a family law attorney and discuss your circumstances before making any move that might jeopardize your child custody case.
Relocating Children During Divorce Proceedings
When There is No Custody Order
Applying relocation laws in Washington will depend on your existing child custody situation. If there is no existing court order for custody and visitation and you are the custodial parent, the relocation law does not apply to your situation. Therefore, you are free to move with your child out-of-state.
However, you are not allowed to prevent the noncustodial parent from seeing the child without a court order. Otherwise, you could create a legal issue. Due to this reason, it’s best to consult a divorce attorney before relocating.
When There is a Custody Order
If you have an existing custody order, whether temporal or permanent, there are some rules you must follow before relocating. First, you must be the custodial parent.
Secondly, you must provide the non-custodial parent with a written notice of your intention, at least 60 days before the move. Once the other party receives the notice, they have 30 days to file an objection in court. If they don’t file an objection after 30 days, you’re free to move.
On the contrary, if the non-custodial parent objects through a court petition, a judge will hear your case and decide from there. However, if your custody order was entered before June 8th 2000, this relocation law doesn’t apply in full. You should discuss your case with a child custody lawyer.
What if I Don’t Give a Relocation Notice?
If you relocate with the children against the other parent's wish and without seeking the court's permission, you'll likely face sanctions. A judge might charge you with a contempt order, which attracts fines or jail term and could order you to return the children to their former location.
Additionally, the court can order you to pay the non-custodial parent’s attorney fees or move back to your original location. Furthermore, if you’re found in contempt more than once in a 3-year period, the judge might award the other parent custody.
What the Court Considers Before Approving a Relocation
If a non-custodial parent files an objection, the judge will schedule a hearing to review the issue. The judge will listen to both parties’ reasons for relocation and objection before deciding based on the child’s best interest.
The judge will approve the relocation if the non-custodial parent can prove that the negative effects of the move far outweighs its benefits to the child and custodial parent. The court will consider the following ten factors:
- 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
- Any prior agreements between the parents
- Whether disrupting the contact between the child and the custodial parent would be more detrimental to the child than disrupting contact between the child and the non-custodial parent
- Whether either parent, or any other person entitled to time with the child, is subject to limitations imposed by Washington law that limits visitation because of prior acts of abandonment, physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, or domestic violence and sexual assault
- The reasons the parents are asking for or opposing relocation, and whether the proposed relocation is in good faith
- The age, developmental state, and needs of the child, and the likely impact the relocation or prevention of relocation will have on the child’s physical, educational, and emotional development, considering any special needs the child might have
- The quality of life, resources, and opportunities available to the child and to the relocating parent in the current and proposed locations
- The availability of alternative arrangements to foster and continue the child’s relationship with the non-custodial parent
- The alternatives to relocation and whether it’s feasible and desirable for the non-custodial parent to relocate as well
- The financial impact and the logistics of the relocation
If you're in the middle of a divorce, you may have legitimate reasons for wanting to relocate out-of-state with your children. However, you'll need to prove that it's in their best interest. At the Law Offices of Molly B. Kenny, our child custody lawyers based in Bellevue, Washington, can accurately present your case before a judge. Call us today or use our contact form to send us an email to arrange a private consultation.