In Washington State, a divorce where minor children are in the picture includes a parenting plan that addresses custody and visitation issues. When deciding whether to approve a plan, courts consider the best interests of the children.
However, circumstances can change. A parenting plan that was perfect a few years ago may now present problems for the parents or the children. When this occurs, parents can request a modification.
One must officially file with the court to ask for a modification. In some cases, a hearing may be necessary. While the process can seem burdensome, it is important to only change arrangements once the court officially grants the modification request. Even if the other parent informally agrees to make changes, relying on word alone can violate the existing order and cause significant problems, especially if the other parent later decides he or she no longer agrees to the changes.
A major modification to a parenting plan consists of a request to permanently change physical custody from one parent to the other. To obtain approval, the requesting party must show that a substantial change in circumstances has arisen, that the modification will be in the child's best interests and that a change is necessary to sustain them. The changes must have arisen after the court entered the original order.
If both parents agree to the modification, courts will usually approve the request. Other grounds for approval include showing the current arrangements are damaging to the child's wellbeing or that the non-requesting parent has either been guilty of custodial interference or was found in contempt of court at least twice in the past three years due to violating the existing parenting plan. Courts may also consider evidence that the child has been living with the requesting parent with the consent of the other parent.
Minor modifications and adjustments concern the visitation schedule rather than custody. As above, if the parents agree, the court will usually approve the request. Courts may adjust visitation based on changed circumstances such as a parent's failure to comply with the current schedule or exercise rights. Courts may limit a parent's visitation access if he or she abused or neglected the child or if circumstances arise that limit his or her ability to care for the child responsibly.
Military deployment constitutes a separate category of circumstances. Courts apply a separate set of considerations when dealing with issues specific to military service.