A final Parenting Plan is issued by the court when your divorce and child custody settlements are completed. The Parenting Plan may have been jointly agreed upon or may have been imposed by the court if you and your co-parent were unable to make an agreement. The Parenting Plan is intended to meet your child's needs and best interest.
Life circumstances may shift and one or both parents may want to make changes to the Parenting Plan. This must be done through a court procedure known as a Parenting Plan Modification and there are specific rules/laws which govern the process.
When can a Parenting Plan be modified?
Washington State allows modifications of Final Parenting Plans under certain circumstances only. In Washington, the best interest of the child standard is paramount in domestic relations law. Therefore, it is important to note that is not thought to be in the child's best interest to allow for serial litigation once a final Parenting Plan is in place. However, it would also not be in the child's best interest to disallow change if it is legitimately warranted.
The law on modification insists that any change to existing final Parenting Plans demonstrate legal merit.
The legal basis or grounds for a Parenting Plan modification is designated by RCW 26.09.260and governed primarily by harm/benefit analysis. Please review the statute for details about which circumstances allow for modifications.
It is also a possible for a Parenting Plan to be modified if the parents have been substantially deviating from the existing Parenting Plan, resulting in the child being “integrated” into the family of the petitioning parent.
How does a parent pursue a Parenting Plan Modification?
Either or both parents may petition the court for the modification of a Parenting Plan. A modification may be requested if a substantial change in circumstances has occurred in the life of the child or the other parent since the prior decree or plan was entered, or that were unknown to the Court at the time of the entry of the Parenting Plan. The modification must be demonstrate legal merit and be necessary to serve the best interests of the child.
A preliminary “adequate case” hearing is held to determine whether or not there is legal merit to proceed with the petition for modification. If the Court does not determine there is adequate need for modification required to proceed, the case will be dismissed.
In some cases, before the modification request can move forward it needs to be shown in this initial hearing that the requested change is necessary due to significant potential of harm to the child if the change does not occur. Other reasons for modification could be if the court finds the non-petitioning parent in contempt of court at least twice within 3 years because the parent failed to comply with the residential time provisions in the court-ordered Parenting Plan, or if the parent has been convicted of custodial interference.
What are “major” vs “minor” Parenting Plan Modifications?
Washington State law defines the difference between “major” and “minor” Parenting Plan modifications according to the number of days the requested change would make to the child's current residential schedule.
Major modification, which results in changing the primary residence and primary custodial parent, carries a greater burden of proof. Minor modifications may include non-residential modifications to the plan.
Both minor and major Parenting Plan modifications require thorough understanding and expertise about the ins and outs of the legal process as well as all of the relevant statutes. Our Family Law Attorneys are experienced, knowledgeable, and equipped to help obtain the outcome that is in the best interest of you and your children.