Understanding the Child Relocation Act

If a parent wants to relocate with a child, there are many initial considerations requiring a detailed assessment.  The laws for relocating children are complicated.  The primary residential parent may want to know if he or she is allowed to relocate or move with the child in such a way that the current parenting plan may become unworkable; the nonresidential parent may want to know whether he or she can prevent the child from moving to a new location.

The Child Relocation Act does not authorize a court to restrict where a parent is allowed to live.  However, the law does grant the court authority to restrict a parent’s ability to relocate the children.  In other words, the court can prevent the children from moving with the relocating parent but cannot prevent the parent from moving by him/herself. 

The parental relocation statute sets forth detailed procedural rules governing how a parent must provide notice to relocate the children and how to object to receiving notice of a proposed relocation.  The law further provides detailed, substantive standards for the court to consider in deciding whether or not to allow the relocation.  

Traditional visitation and custody modifications are grounded in a comprehensive analysis as to whether there has been a substantial change in circumstances and whether a modification is in the best interests of the children.  If a modification is requested because of the proposed relocation of the children, the Relocation Act may narrow the analysis to the benefit of the relocating parent.  To begin the analysis, the parent with whom the children reside a majority of the time (the custodial parent) is given a rebuttable presumption that they will be allowed to relocate – the court starts with the presumption that the custodial parent will always act in the best interests of the children. 

This presumption can be overcome, but the objection to the move must be especially persuasive.  The court’s authority to restrict relocation is grounded in its responsibility to intervene to protect the children when parental actions or decisions conflict with the children’s interests, including their relationship with the noncustodial parent. 

When there is shared custody and neither parent has a majority of residential time, the relocation law may not apply and the presumption in favor of relocation may not apply.  In such circumstances, the court will engage in a more traditional analysis as to whether the move is in the best interest of the children. 

Procedurally, when the custodial parent seeks to relocate, he or she must provide notice to the other parent at least 60 days prior to relocating. After notice is provided, the nonrelocating parent must object to the relocation within 30 days of receipt of the notice or the relocation may be permitted. A relocating parent is generally entitled to move if the objecting party files a late response.  On the other hand, if a parent fails to provide the proper notice before moving, he or she could be required to return the children to the nonmoving parent.  

Once an objection to a relocation is filed, the court will engage in a fact specific inquiry to determine whether the children may move. The relocation law provides, in part, as follows (RCW 26.09.520):

There is a rebuttable presumption that the intended relocation of the child will be permitted. A person entitled to object to the intended relocation of the child may rebut the presumption by demonstrating that the detrimental effect of the relocation outweighs the benefit of the change to the child and the relocating person, based upon the following factors. The factors listed in this section are not weighted. No inference is to be drawn from the order in which the following factors are listed:

(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 seeking relocation 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 [parental] limitations [and/or restrictions] . . .

(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.

The court may not consider whether the parent intending to relocate will forego his or her move if the children’s relocation is prohibited, or whether the opposing party will relocate if the children’s relocation is permitted. The ultimate determination is whether the detrimental effect of the relocation outweighs the benefit of the change to the children and the relocating parent.

If you have questions about child relocation, act quickly to obtain legal advice.  The courts can be unforgiving for parents who do not strictly adhere to the procedural obligations and timeframes within the notice and objection requirements of the Child Relocation Act. 

Legal Disclaimer:  The information contained herein is not intended to be legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and my office.  By providing this information, I am not acting as your lawyer.  You should always consult with a lawyer before taking any legal action.  Feel free to me at 206-489-5778 for a free telephone consultation.