Your divorce will bring significant changes to your life, and simply because your divorce is final does not mean that these changes will stop. In fact, you may find that your life continues to change to a point where it is difficult to adhere to the terms of your original divorce order — specifically, your parenting plan. In certain situations, it may be beneficial to seek a formal modification to your custody and visitation order.
If you believe that you need to change your child custody order, you will benefit from first learning about what circumstances merit a change and which factors a court will take into consideration. The ultimate goal of any custody or visitation modification is to protect the best interests of the children above all else. Before you pursue a modification, it may be beneficial to first consider whether it would truly benefit the child.
Valid reasons to seek a modification
The statute on modification of a parenting plan is complicated. If only minor modifications are requested, the court can usually make appropriate adjustments to the parenting plan if the child’s residence would not be changed, and if the additional time requested will not exceed 24 days in a calendar year. Other reasons which might justify a minor modification include a change of residence or work schedule, a parenting plan which does not provide reasonable time with the noncustodial parent, or failure of the noncustodial parent to exercise their residential time.
If a major modification of the parenting plan is requested, the court is required to retain the current residential schedule unless:
- the parents agree to the modification, or
- the child has been integrated into the family of the petitioner with the consent of the custodial parent, or
- the nonmoving party has been found in contempt at least twice in the last three years, or
- the child’s present environment is detrimental to the child’s physical, mental or emotional health, and the benefits outweigh any harm caused by the change.
The court can order adjustments to the parenting plan if the custodial parent intends to relocate the child. If the noncustodial parent objects to the relocation, they must file a petition to restrain the move.
If you believe that a modification of your current order is in the best interests of your children, you may benefit from seeking an explanation of your options. An evaluation of your current situation could help you understand whether you have grounds to pursue a court-ordered change to your custody and visitation order. As a Washington parent, you have the right to advocate for your parental rights, as well as the best interests of your children.