Modification of Orders in Spokane, Washington
The end of a divorce marks the beginning of a new phase in the lives of both parents and in the lives of their children. Eventually, it is likely that one or both parents will pursue a new job opportunity or begin a new relationship, and that the original parenting plan ordered at the time of the divorce may no longer be feasible or realistic. Fortunately, Washington family law recognizes that a family’s circumstances can change after a final divorce decree is entered, and carves out a process for modifying aspects of parenting plans to align with those new circumstances, including child custody arrangements, visitation rights, and child support payments.
For that reason, parents in Washington are permitted to modify most custody, support, and visitation orders. Our attorneys thoroughly understand the modification process and its requirements. We also understand that final orders are unique to each party, and we can help clients understand their particular orders and specific options for modification. We are also well prepared to assist you if you have been served with a request by the other parent to modify your existing orders.
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How Do I Change My Parenting Plan in Washington?
The process for parenting plan modifications varies, depending on whether your desired change is a “major” or “minor” change in the eyes of the court.
To make a major change to their child’s parenting plan, the parent requesting the change will need to prove to a judge that there has been a “substantial change of circumstances” affecting their children’s lives. A major change typically involves changing which parent will have custody of the children.
The court will presume that keeping the plan the same is in the best interest of the children because Washington law supposes that consistency is typically good for children. This puts a heavy burden on the parent asking for the change to show compelling evidence in favor of modification. Parents can still win a major modification, however, if they can prove one of the following.
- Both parents agree to the modification
- The parents have already substantially deviated from the plan without formally changing it, and the child is now integrated into the family of the parent asking for a formal change
- The child’s current environment poses a threat to his or her physical, mental, or emotional health, and any harm caused by the change is outweighed by the harm they will avoid.
- The parent that is not asking for a change has been held in contempt twice or more in the last three years for violating the existing plan, or been convicted of the felony of “custodial interference”
Minor changes are much easier to get approved by the court. A minor change is one that changes the residential or visitation schedule in some way but doesn’t switch custody from one parent to the other. For example, maybe the children’s father wants to take the kids on vacation for a week now that they are older, but the original plan only allows for them to spend three nights in a row away from their mom.
For minor changes, the court can grant the modification without forcing a parent to overcome a strong presumption if one of the following is true:
- The number of days the children spend with each parent changes by less than twenty-four days per year
- The change is necessary because the non-custodial parent moved or their work schedule now makes the original plan impractical to follow
- The original order includes an unreasonably low number of nights with the non-custodial parent, the children spend less than ninety nights per year away from the custodial parent, and the change is in the children’s best interest.
I Have Custody of The Kids, and I Want to Move. Do I Need to Change My Parenting Plan?
No, but you do still need to take legal action. Moves by custodial parents with parenting plans are governed by Washington’s relocation law. The law requires you to give your co-parent notice of the move. They will also have an opportunity to object and may be able to prevent you from moving if they do so successfully. For more information on relocation and how a family law attorney can help make sure your move goes as planned, see our resources on relocation.
My Co-Parent Wants to Change Our Parenting Plan, and I’m Ok with The Changes. Do I Still Need a Lawyer?
It’s a good idea to have a family law attorney review any potential changes to your parenting plan, even if you and your co-parent agree to the substance of them. If you or your co-parent draft the changes yourselves, you could create unintended consequences that are difficult or impossible to remedy down the road. It’s also possible to draft the language of your parenting plan modification in such a way that the terms are not enforceable. This means that you won’t be able to hold your co-parent to the terms you both agreed on later.
For these reasons, it’s crucial to make sure you get your parenting plan modification right the first time. The only way to be sure that you’ve done so is to consult with a family law attorney skilled in the ins and outs of Washington law.
If you are attempting to modify an order or need to contest such a modification, we invite you to contact Crouse Erickson to schedule a consultation. As one of the top family law firms in the Spokane, Washington area, our attorneys are prepared to help you understand your rights in the parenting plan modification process, to draft a parenting plan modification that will work for you, and to advocate on your behalf and reach the best possible outcome for you and your children.