Under what circumstances may a parenting plan be modified?

There are many reasons why a parenting plan that once made sense no longer does. In some cases, families simply outgrow a parenting plan or agree that a new plan is in order. A parent's career growth, for example, may necessitate relocating out-of-state, a change in circumstances for which the residential provisions of a parenting plan may need to be substantially altered. In other cases, the misconduct of one parent — physically harming the child or acting to alienate the child from the other parent — may make a revised parenting plan necessary and appropriate. This article will explore in more detail the circumstances under which a parenting plan may be modified in the state of Washington.

Substantial change in circumstance and best interests of the child

In Washington, the general rule is that courts may order parenting plan modifications if (1) there has been a substantial change in the circumstances of a parent or child since the original parenting plan was issued, and (2) if the modification is in the best interests of the child.

A change in the demands or schedule of a parent's occupation can be a substantial change in circumstance. So can a parent's need to relocate because of employment. However, relocation or new duties because of a parent's military service — even if the relocation or new duties will negatively affect parenting duties — are not, by themselves, a substantial change in circumstances sufficient to warrant modification of a parenting plan.

Other factors relevant in a court's decision whether and how to modify the residential schedule of a parenting plan include:

  • Whether the parents are in agreement with the proposed revisions.
  • Whether the modification will formalize a schedule substantially different than the one embodied in the existing parenting plan to which the other parent previously consented and under which the child has been integrated into the family of the other parent.
  • Whether the current residence is "detrimental to the child's physical, mental, or emotional health" to the extent that any harm that may be caused by modifying the residential schedule is outweighed by the advantages to the child that will be derived from the change.
  • Whether a parent has willfully abandoned the child for a lengthy period or refuses to perform parental functions.
  • Whether it is necessary to prevent the physical, sexual or emotional abuse of the child or where there exists a history of domestic violence.

In some cases, a substantial change in circumstances is sufficient on its own to justify an order modifying a parenting plan. Provided the proposed adjustments to the parenting plan's residential provisions (1) are minor, (2) will not change with which parent the child will reside the majority of the time and (3) comply with other provisions relating to the maximum number of full days and overnights in a calendar year, the court may order the modification based solely on evidence of a substantial change in circumstances.

As a remedy for parental misconduct

Washington law authorizes courts to modify parenting plans in situations involving certain types of parental misconduct. If a parent is found in contempt of court two or more times in the last three years because he or she did not adhere to the residential schedule, or has been convicted of first or second degree custodial interference, an order modifying a parenting plan in favor of the other parent can be issued.

To learn more about modifying parenting plans and to discuss your case, contact a Washington family law attorney to schedule a consultation.