Articles Posted in Relocation

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We live in a world where people’s careers often require them to move to find work or allow their career room to grow. We also live in a world where many families are dealing with parenting plans and raising children in two separate households. Relocation actions are what happens when these two realities intersect.

Upon receiving a notice of relocation, non-primary parents are often shocked, hurt, and confused. Below please find a few notes about the relocation process. This is by no means a substitution for legal advice or a complete summary of the laws and procedures regarding relocations in Washington.

In relocation cases, timing is very important. Most of the time, notice should be provided by the moving primary parent to the non-primary parent sixty days in advance of the proposed move. RCW 26.09.440(1)(b)(i). After receiving notice of intent to relocate, a person has only thirty days to file an objection with the court. RCW 26.09.500. The objection is made by filing a form with the court (this is not the only way to provide notice of your objection, but it is the most common and perhaps most clear objection). If you do not object within thirty days, the move will be permitted by the court.

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Unmarried parents are often confused about their rights and responsibilities when they want to move their children, or if they want to stop the children’s other parent from moving the kids. For most families living under a court-ordered Washington parenting plan, there is a relocation statute that requires notice be given (except in limited circumstances) prior to moving the children. The type of notification (formal vs. informal) and other requirements (timing of notice, allowing time for objection of other parent) of notification vary based on whether the move is (1) out of the school district, or (2) within the school district. A lot of attention is paid to the notice required for a move outside the school district. There is a law requiring (in most cases) a formal notice of intended relocation. There is also a process that allows the other party to object to the proposed relocation. However, there are frequent instances where a residential parent merely wants to move across town to a new home or apartment. These types of moves often keep the children in the same school district (or even the same school). In these instances, residential parents often wonder what the law requires of them, and non-residential parents wonder whether they have any say in the decision.

RCW 26.09.450 requires that when the residential parent intends to move the kids within the same school district, the residential parent must provide actual notice to all people entitled to residential time with the child. According to that statue, the notice may be by any reasonable means. While “reasonable means” is a vague term (that can include verbal notice), it is usually advisable that a residential parent provide written notice. This reduces the chance that the non-residential parent will deny receiving notice. A copy of the notice you provide should be kept for your records. Many attorneys advise that this notice be sent by certified mail with a return receipt requested. The notice should likely include your new home address, phone number, and (if applicable) new school or daycare information. (Notice requirements are often different in cases involving domestic violence or other safety concerns.)

If you are the recipient of notice that your child’s residential parent is relocating within the school district, you are not allowed to formally object to the relocation. That said, in some cases an in-district move may be grounds for a modification of the parenting plan.

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Many clients seeking a divorce (called dissolution in Washington) come into our office ready get things started. By the time they’ve come to us they’ve often already done the hard work of deciding that they are emotionally prepared to leave their spouse. They are anxious to get the legal process started, and want to know how they get their spouse served. Some are worried about how their spouse may react to service. Most think of movies they’ve seen where someone knocks on the (soon-to-be-former) spouse’s door and tells them: “You’ve been served.” The served spouse usually looks shocked, angry, sad, or a combination of all three. While for some family law clients these are the responses they desire, most want a more discreet approach. There are ways to initiate your dissolution process without undue embarrassment, surprise or anger:

  1. Think about the kids. It is usually best to plan a time to serve your spouse when he or she will not have the children. (In fact, it is hard to imagine a time when it would be a good idea to serve your spouse in front of your children.) In addition to saving your spouse from the experience of being served in front of the children, you are also saving the children from the confusion and concern likely to occur as a result of seeing mom or dad served. Furthermore, it may please a decision-maker whom is made aware of extra steps being taken to protect the kids.
  2. Consider who else might bear witness to service. Serving your spouse at work or in another public place is not likely to start things off in a friendly fashion. If you’re trying to preserve goodwill between spouses, consider having your spouse served at home at a time you know they will be alone. Also, serving your spouse at work may affect their employment. This is an important consideration as both parties’ ability to earn will be considered in your dissolution negotiations and/or litigation.
  3. Consider asking the other party to join. If you and your spouse agree about what issues need to be resolved during the dissolution process, you might consider having him or her join in the petition. When the petitioner and respondent join in a petition it means that both parties are asking the court to resolve some issues (though you are free to negotiate and resolve things outside the courtroom). No one needs to be served because you both participate in filing the petition. In addition to saving your spouse from the emotional toll of being served, you can also save yourself money and time (You will not have to pay someone to serve your spouse, and the 90-day waiting period begins when the petition is filed.). There may be other ramifications to signing a joinder that should be discussed with your family law attorney.

We would be remiss not to point out that these modes of service only work in certain cases. Sometimes the element of surprise is part of a legal strategy that seeks to protect a party’s interests (safety, financial or otherwise). Sometimes, it is impossible to find a time for service that the spouse will not have an audience of either children or coworkers. As with all legal questions, this is one that should be discussed with a qualified family law attorney who understands your individual circumstances. Please contact us with your family law issues.