Posted on June 6, 2023 by Will Reingold
In a prior blogpost, I discussed the statutory notice you have to give to another parent when you plan to relocate with a child. If the non-relocating parent objects to the move, then the parents will need to go to court and have a judge determine whether to allow the move. The governing statutory scheme in these cases is the Child Relocation Act, which “shifts the analysis away from only the best interests of the child to an analysis that focuses on both the child and the relocating person.” So what is the analysis that a court will employ to ascertain whether relocation is warranted? The trial court will need to conduct a fact-finding hearing in which it considers eleven relocation factors:
- The relative strength, nature, quality, extent of involvement, and stability of the child’s relationship with each parent, siblings, and other significant persons in the child’s life;
- Prior agreements of the parties;
- Whether disrupting the contact between the child and the person with whom the child resides a majority of the time would be more detrimental to the child than disrupting contact between the child and the person objecting to the relocation;
- Whether either parent or a person entitled to residential time with the child is subject to limitations under RCW 26.09.191 [which limits residential time if the parent has engaged in willful abandonment, abuse, domestic violence, or assault];
- The reasons of each person for seeking or opposing the relocation and the good faith of each of the parties in requesting or opposing the relocation;
- The age, developmental stage, and needs of the child, and the likely impact the relocation or its prevention will have on the child’s physical, educational, and emotional development, taking into consideration any special needs of the child;
- The quality of life, resources, and opportunities available to the child and to the relocating party in the current and proposed geographic locations;
- The availability of alternative arrangements to foster and continue the child’s relationship with and access to the other parent;
- The alternatives to relocation and whether it is feasible and desirable for the other party to relocate also;
- The financial impact and logistics of the relocation or its prevention; and
- For a temporary order, the amount of time before a final decision can be made at trial.
Essentially, both parents will have to argue why each factor weighs in their favor, either for relocation or against relocation. Take for example a hypothetical situation surrounding factor (7) regarding the quality of life at the current location versus the relocation—the relocating parent might contend the new destination is safer, has better schools, and offers better job opportunities, and that these job in turn would benefit the child because it allows the parent more money to spend on extracurricular activities and the child’s wellbeing. In response, the parent opposing relocation might contend that the current location is where all the child’s friends and relatives live, and that the child needs stability with regard to academics; this parent may posit that uprooting the child from his accustomed schooling and social groups would do more harm than good. Can you see how a judge viewing this factor may struggle to rule one way or the other? What if both parents have good faith, legitimate reasons supporting their argument?
You can probably tell that these types of cases are highly fact intensive, as the judge needs to consider each individual factor rule upon each one before making a final decision. Gathering evidence to support your position is vital, such as “(a) a written offer from a prospective employer; (b) a transfer order from a current employer; (c) official materials, or correspondence from the school in which the child will be enrolled; (d) written third-party information about the demographics or social, cultural, or recreational opportunities available in the new neighborhood.” And, critically, the trial court does not necessarily have to rule that any given factor supports one parent over the other—the court may rule that a factor is neutral. So what does that mean in practice? As it turns out, “a neutral factor would still have the effect of supporting relocation.” The reason being is “the statute weighs in favor of relocation,” therefore “a factor which does not operate to rebut the presumption generally favors relocation.”
There is an enormous amount of detail that goes into these cases, and presenting the evidence in a compelling manner is not something that you want to shortchange. A family law attorney at Lasher Holzapfel Sperry & Ebberson can help guide you through this process to make sure no stone is left unturned.
 In re Marriage of Horner, 93 P.3d 124 (Wash. 2004).
 RCW 26.09.520.
 John E. Finnerty, Relocation—How to Do it (or Stop it), 11 Fam. Advoc. 13, 14 (1989).
 Shrauner v. Olsen, 483 P.3d 815, 828 (Wash. Ct. App. 2020).
 In re Marriage of Weaver, 505 P.3d 560, 575 (Wash. Ct. App. 2021).