Requests to Relocate With Your Children When You Have a 50/50 Parenting Plan

Posted on July 17, 2017 by Hillary Collyer

On March 28, 2017, the Washington Court of Appeals, Division II, threw certain family law litigants a curve ball when it issued its ruling in In re Marriage of Ruff & Worthley, No. 48462-5-II. In Worthley, the court addressed the question of whether the Child Relocation Act (“CRA”) applies to joint parenting plans where the parents share equal residential time and joint decision-making authority. The court held that the CRA does not apply to a proposed relocation that would modify a 50/50 parenting plan to something other than joint and equal residential time. Instead, a parent whose desired relocation would necessarily terminate the existing joint and equal residential schedule must now establish “adequate cause” to modify the residential schedule in the parenting plan under the modification statute, RCW 26.09.260.

The impact of this decision is clear and immediate: a parent who has a parenting plan with an equal residential schedule who desires to move with their children now needs to establish “adequate cause” to change the residential schedule in the parenting plan, rather than establishing the less stringent requirements of the CRA. Establishing adequate cause to modify a parenting plan involves proving that there has been a “substantial change” in the circumstances of the children or the parent who is not trying to modify the parenting plan—a very difficult standard to meet, and one that may not even be relevant in cases where the only change is based on one parent’s need or desire to relocate. Unfortunately, while the Worthley court ruled that the CRA is not applicable in these cases, it offered little guidance as to how parents with equal residential schedules should proceed in the event of a relocation. This leaves parents in an uncertain position until this issue is further clarified by the Washington courts.

For the time being, the Worthley decision issued by Division II is binding law across the state, despite the fact that Division II only hears cases from about thirteen out of Washington’s thirty-nine counties. Neither Division I nor Division III (which together cover the remainder of Washington’s counties, including King and Spokane, respectively) or the Washington Supreme Court has weighed in on this important issue. It is possible that one or more of those courts could reach a different conclusion than the Worthley court, but until that occurs, trial courts around the state are bound to follow the holding in Worthley.

If you have a 50/50 parenting plan and are considering a relocation, or if you have a more general question about a parenting plan, feel free to contact me or one of the other family law attorneys at Lasher Holzapfel Sperry & Ebberson at collyer@lasher.com to set up a consultation.