There are times when modification of a parenting plan makes sense. There could be a relocation issue or the parties simply have outgrown the plan. There could also be evidence of misconduct by one parent against a child. Washington Courts are very careful in deciding whether to grant a modification. Courts give a preference for stability in the child’s living arrangements. However, modifications do happen and are appropriate in certain circumstances.
Modification of a parenting plan follows statutorily requirements under RCW 26.09.260. There are two types of modifications: (1) major and (2) minor. Compliance with the statute is mandatory. The party seeking modification is called the moving party.
Under the statute, the court will not allow a major modification of a parenting plan until it finds a substantial change in the circumstances of the child or the nonmoving party, and that modification is necessary to serve the best interests of the child. Major modifications are those that result in a change of the child’s primary care-giver and residence. The courts are directed to retain the residential schedule established in the parenting plan unless:
- The parents agree to the modification;
- The child has been integrated into the family of the moving party with consent of the other parent in substantial deviation from the parenting plan;
- The child’s present environment is detrimental to the child’s physical, mental, or emotional heath and the harm likely to be caused by a change of environment is outweighed by the advantage of change to the child; or
- The court has found the nonmoving parent in contempt of court at least twice within three years because the parent failed to comply with the residential time provisions in parenting plan or the parent has been convicted of custodial interference in the first or second degree.
For minor modification of a parenting plan, there are more relaxed requirements. Upon a showing of substantial change in the circumstances of either parent (as opposed to the nonmoving parent in a major modification) or of the child, the court may adjust the residential schedule of the child without a showing of the factors needed in major modification.
However, the changes cannot change the child’s primary residence and
- The modification does not exceed 24 days year; or
- The modification is based on the noncustodial parent’s change of residence or a parent’s involuntary change in work schedule that makes the current residential schedule impractical to follow; or
- The change does not result in a schedule that exceeds 90 overnights.
To establish that he or she is entitled to a full hearing on a petition to modify a residential schedule, the petitioner must first demonstrate that adequate cause exists. This is called an adequate cause hearing. The judge will determine whether the moving party has presented enough evidence to allow a full hearing on modification.
The court will carefully evaluate whether there has been a substantial change of circumstance. This determination is based on facts that have arisen since the prior parenting plan or that were unknown to the court at the time of the prior decree or plan. Many cases for modification are unsuccessful because the moving party cannot establish that a substantial change of circumstance occurred.
An experienced family law attorney will be able to determine if your case shows a viable substantial change of circumstance. If you have any questions about modification of a parenting plan, please contact Jeff at Burleson Law, PLLC.