Co-parenting after a divorce presents many challenges even when both parents live in the same area. However, if the custodial parent decides to move to a new city or state with the child, many difficult issues arise. The non-custodial parent will be unable to see the child as frequently as before. Travel is an added expense for both parties. The child is subjected to a major change that has the potential to greatly disrupt his or her life. For these reasons, many non-custodial parents file court proceedings to bar relocation if at all possible. The custodial parent sometimes has no choice but to move - for example, due to a job change or military orders. Having an excellent attorney often means the difference between a court order barring or allowing relocation.
Child Relocation Act
Governing law is the Child Relocation Act in RCW 26.09.520, which directs the court to permit relocation unless there is a weighty objection that can overcome this presumption. Essentially, this means that your former partner does not have to convince the court to let her relocate your child. Instead, it is your duty to prove the relocation should be prohibited. In considering your objection, the court will look at more than just the best interests of your child.
Case Law Precedent
Case law in re Marriage of Horner, 151 Wn.2d 884, 93 P.3d 124 (2004) strengthened this presumption. In this case, custodial parent mom notified dad that she was moving from Vancouver to Edmonds to take care of her sick parents. Dad objected, and the trial courts agreed with him, legally blocking the move. Mom's attorney appealed, and the Supreme Court reversed the lower court's decision. The S.C. approved Mom's move stating that governing law takes both mom and child into account when determining whether the relocation is acceptable. In applying the law, the court must determine whether a parent's objection to relocation outweighs the benefit that the move will provide to both the child and the parent who is relocating. This decision gave significant weight to the interests and circumstances of the parent who has decided to relocate.
Objecting to Relocation
If your child's other parent wants to move away with your child, she must notify you of the intended move. If your child resides with this parent at least 51 percent of the time, the presumption of the court will likely be to allow the move. Therefore, you need to file an objection showing that the relocation will cause more harm than good to your child. The court will look at the reason for the move and whether the benefits to both your former partner and your child are outweighed by the detriments. They will review such factors as the strength of your relationship and how this move will impact it, previously established arrangements and how the move will affect your child's quality of life and opportunities.
An experienced Washington child custody lawyer can help you present evidence to the court to try to overcome the court's presumption to allow the relocation.