When Having Child Custody in Washington Really Matters

Custody in Washington state is only a word — in most cases.

As we said in a recent post, when a couple with children divorces the state requires designation of one parent as the custodial parent, mostly so the federal government can determine aid. Both parents can’t claim the child when applying for assistance with food or medical costs, for instance. When the child goes to college, the designated parent will be the one whose income is considered for the purposes of financial aid, as well.

Usually, however, which parent gets custody has little bearing on any aspect of the divorcing couple’s lives or their children’s. The exception: when one of the parents decides to move away, and wants to take the children.

Such a move can be heartbreaking for the non-custodial parent. Worse, it may be detrimental to the child’s best interests — which is why Washington law requires that the custodial parent give 60 days’ advance notice to the noncustodial parent, so the matter can, if needed, be settled by the court.

Courts have the last word

The courts have the final say in this important matter. Before such a move can take place for any reason — no matter which parent is going — the parent planning the move must file a relocation action and petition for a change in the parenting plan. No judge can stop anyone from moving (unless there are criminal implications), of course, but the courts can stop the children from going.

Here’s where custody counts, because the designated custodial parent has the advantage. The courts will almost certainly allow the custodial parent to move anywhere, at least in United States, unless the non-custodial parent can provide a convincing reason not to. If the parent without custody wants fight the move, he or she bears the burden of proving why moving the children would be detrimental to their welfare.

The reason for the move can make little difference to the outcome. Whether the parent wishing to relocate has a job offer elsewhere, wants to join family members in a different city or state, or simply wants to move, the courts are inclined to allow it. This is America, after all, and we are free to live as, and where, we choose.

When moving the kids is a bad idea

Sometimes, though, such a move would not be good for the child and could even prove harmful.

Is the custodial parent an alcoholic or frequent drug abuser, or does the parent have a history of violence or crime?

Is the move seemingly impulsive, without living arrangements or even a job in the new locale?

A parent wishing to stop an ex-spouse’s moving away with the children will need a compelling argument against the relocation, or the court is probably going to allow it. This is where having a good attorney can make all the difference — on either side.

On the other hand, the very nature of divorce and custody can cause conflicts over seemingly small events. I’ve seen court battles over a parent’s wanting to move a few blocks away because the move would take the child out of his or her school district. Again, a good attorney is essential for the best outcome.

Empower yourself: Here’s how

No matter how much time you spend with your children now, if you’re not the custodial parent you’ll face many obstacles in Washington should you wish to block the other parent’s move. But there is one way you can protect your interests: when writing your initial or amended parenting plan, keep in mind that the custodial parent does have a small advantage. You can both agree to be custodial parents (although the court must see 100% agreement on that), or you can alternative seek to negotiate other terms.

If you need help with your parenting plan, divorce documents, relocation action, or any other child custody issues, the Quiroga Law Office, PLLC is here to help. Call us today at (509) 927-3840.

When Having Child Custody in Washington Really Matters Resources and Points of Law

Notice Requirements and Standards for Parental Relocation.
Failure to give notice.
Objection to relocation or proposed revised residential schedule.
Factor not to be considered.

When Having Child Custody in Washington Really Matters | Copyrighted Material of the Quiroga Law Office, PLLC