Washington Court Does Not Allow Mother to Relocate with the Child

When parents separate, there often comes a time when one of them wants to move.  Relocation can cause issues with co-parenting.  Under Washington family law, when a custodial parent wants to move with the child, there is a rebuttable presumption the move will be allowed.  The other parent may rebut the presumption by showing the benefit of the move is outweighed by its detrimental effect, based on several factors.  Those factors include: the child’s relationship with each parent and other significant people in their life; any agreement between the parties; which relationship it would be more detrimental to disrupt; whether there are restrictions under RCW 26.09.191; the reasons for each parent’s position and whether they are requesting or opposing the relocation in good faith; how the relocation would affect the child’s development; the resources and opportunities available in the current and proposed locations; ways to continue the child’s relationship and access to the other parent; alternatives to relocation; and the financial impact and logistics of relocating or not relocating.

In a recent case, a mother challenged the parenting plan entered by the court.   The couple had lived together with the father’s mother and the mother and child continued to live there after they separated.  The mother subsequently petitioned for a parenting plan and asked to move from Spokane to Medical Lake, where her boyfriend lived.

The trial court considered the factors in RCW 26.09.187.  Under Washington family law, a court must consider certain factors when determining the parenting plan.  These factors include the child’s relationship with each parent, past and potential future parenting performance, the child’s needs and emotional development, the child’s relationship with others, his environment, and his activities, the wishes of the parents and of the child if he is mature enough to express a reason and an independent preference, and the parents’ employment schedules.  RCW 26.09.187.

The court found the child had “a strong and stable relationship” with each parent, so that factor was neutral.  The trial court found the parenting function factor weighed in favor of the mother.  The father had previously taken the lead as parent, but more recently the mother had done so.  The trial court noted the father had commented about how much fun the child had with him, and pointed out that children need structure and may act out without it.

The court also found that the child needed a parenting plan that provided structure and stability, especially in light of his behavioral issues.  The court also said the child had “greatly improved” since the temporary plan went into effect.  The trial court found that the back and forth of a 50/50 parenting plan would be too “chaotic” for the child and moving would also be “detrimental.” It would take him away from the only school district he had attended and his grandmother, who had provided him stability and with whom he had always lived.  The trial court considered this the most important factor.

As for the employment schedule, both parents had flexible schedules that generally allowed them to parent any time.

The court stated it had taken the parents’ wishes into consideration.

The court entered a parenting plan that gave the mother primary residential placement, with the father having weekend visitation.  The parents would alternate each week during the summer.  If the mother moved outside the school district, though, the father would receive primary residential placement and she would get weekend visitation.

The mother moved for reconsideration, arguing the court erred in prospectively modifying the parenting plan without considering the factors, by giving the father all of the Monday holidays during the school year, and by not finding the father engaged in abusive use of conflict.  The court denied the motion.

The trial court noted that the factors it had analyzed were similar to the relocation factors, and found the detrimental effect of moving outweighed its benefit.  The trial court also noted the mother’s boyfriend, with whom she wanted to live, had an anti-harassment order against him that protected the child’s father.  The court also pointed out that the mother had testified the child struggled with change.  The court denied the reconsideration motion, and the mother appealed.

The mother again argued on appeal that the trial court erred in prospectively denying her the right to relocate.  The Child Relocation Act requires a parent with primary placement to provide notice of an intent to relocate if they share residential time with the other parent.  There is a presumption that the request will be granted, but the other parent may rebut it by showing the detrimental effect of the move would outweigh its benefit to the child and the parent who wants to relocate based on the factors in the statute.  RCW 26.09.520.

The appeals court found the parenting plan did not prospectively deny the right to relocate.  The parenting plan expressly allowed the mother the right to relocate pursuant to RCW 26.09.520. The trial court had found the evidence rebutted the presumption.  However, the mother could later request to relocate and present new and additional evidence.

The mother also argued the court erred in awarding all of the weekends, including Monday holidays, during the school year to the father.  The appeals court noted, however, that the statute does not require the schedules to be equal.

The mother also argued the court erred in not imposing restrictions against the father for abusive use of conflict.  The appeals court rejected this argument due to the mother’s failure to provide a transcript.

The appeals court affirmed the trial court’s judgment.

In this case, the court did not allow the relocation, but the mother may request again later.  If you want to move with your child or oppose your child moving with his or her other parent, an experienced Washington family law attorney can help you.  Call Blair & Kim, PLLC, at (206) 622-6562 and schedule an appointment.

Contact Information