Modifying a Parenting Plan in Washington State

 
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Modifying a Parenting Plan in Washington State
Written By: Josh Lowell ~ 8/10/2020

Every divorce or separation involving kids requires the creation of a specialized parenting plan or residential schedule for the benefit of the children. This legal document outlines how parents will share decision-making. Agreements will also verify a set custody schedule during school, the summer, and even for specific holidays. The purpose of the parenting plan is to ensure consistency, which for the courts, is one of the most sought-after values when determining a child’s best interests.

What happens if – after a few years – your needs change? What happens if the schedule that once fit the situation well now is a hindrance to the child’s life? The Washington legislature understood that changes would likely be needed and codified RCW 26.09.260, which outlines rules regarding parenting plan modifications.

The first thing to understand is that there are two types of parenting plan modifications: minor modifications and major modifications. A modification is considered minor if it does not change the parent the child is scheduled to reside with most of the time, and

  1. The change does not exceed twenty-four full days in a calendar year; or
  2. Is based on a change in residence for the non-primary parent or involuntary change in work schedule that makes the plan impractical to follow; or
  3. Does not result in a schedule that exceeds ninety overnights per year if the court finds that it is in the child’s best interest and that the original plan did not provide reasonable time with the non-primary parent at the time it was first granted.

Regardless of whether the modification is minor or major, the petitioning parent must show a substantial change in circumstances. These are changes that occur throughout life that were not anticipated at the time the original parenting plan was drafted that require change for the child’s best interest. On top of substantial changes, if it is a major modification, the modification must meet one of four criteria:

  1. The parents agree to the modification;
  2. The child has been integrated into the petitioning party’s family in a substantial deviation to the original parenting plan;
  3. The child’s present environment is detrimental to the child’s well-being and the harm in changing environment is outweighed by the advantage of change to the child;
  4. The nonmoving party has been in contempt at least twice within three years for failure to comply with residential provisions or has been convicted of custodial interference in the first or second degree.

This is often the biggest hurdle to modifying a parenting plan in Washington. Once you file your request, the court will hold a threshold hearing (called an Adequate Cause Hearing) to determine whether the modification requirements have even been met. If they have, the case continues. If the judge feels there have not been substantial change of circumstances, etc., the case will be dismissed.

Modifying a parenting plan can be very difficult because the court endeavors to keep substantial consistency in the child’s life. The judges do not want schedules to be changed constantly to provide stability for the family.

If you are interested in modifying your parenting plan, contact the experienced family law attorneys at the Law Offices of Magnuson Lowell, P.S. Our team is available to provide complimentary case evaluations for parents looking for help changing their residential schedules.

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