The end of the school year signifies a time of transition. It is a transition into summertime, longer days, warmer nights, a break from homework, and more time to play. Children are thinking about their transition into the next grade level and who their teacher will be next fall. For parents who are separated or divorced, there may be consideration around transitioning or adjusting the Parenting Plan. Perhaps one party is not happy with the terms or perhaps there is a move or a life change in the works. For many families, summer is the most logical time to look at making Parenting Plan modifications.
How are Parenting Plans modified in Washington State?
Washington State allows modifications of Final Parenting Plans under certain circumstances only. (RCW 26.09.260) In Washington, the best interest of the child standard is paramount in domestic relations law. Therefore, 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.
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 circumstances 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 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. Another reason 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 the parent has been convicted of custodial interference.
The legal basis or grounds for a Parenting Plan modification is designated by RCW 26.09.260 and governed primarily by harm/benefit analysis. 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.
Washington law defines a differences 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 on 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. Contact us today for a consultation.