Can one parent leave Washington with their kids post-divorce?

On Behalf of | May 27, 2024 | Child Custody

Co-parenting after a divorce or breakup is an ongoing challenge. Parents may struggle to regulate their emotions when dealing with one another and may have a hard time adjusting to only seeing their children part of the time.

Those issues may become significantly worse quite rapidly when one parent proposes making a drastic change to family circumstances. Shared custody arrangements typically require that parents live relatively close to one another. Someone hoping to move for a job opportunity or because of a new romantic relationship could negatively impact the parental rights of the other adult in the family.

A relocation might make it impossible to have regular custody exchanges. Can a co-parent make a unilateral decision to move with the children if they have a majority of the parenting time?

Parents need approval to relocate with the children

Washington actually has a relocation statute that addresses this exact situation. When one parent wants to move away with the children, they may need to notify the other parent and the courts ahead of time. If the move takes them out of the school district where they currently live, then they likely need to provide advance notice to the family courts and their co-parent.

When co-parents cooperate, they can potentially modify custody arrangements to reflect the new living circumstances of the parent with more time with the children. If the parents are not in agreement about the necessity of the move or how to adjust their parenting arrangements, then the matter may require the review of a Washington family law judge.

A judge can theoretically grant a parent permission to move and modify the custody order accordingly. They may give the other parent far more time during school breaks and summer vacation. Other times, a judge may question the necessity of the move or the impact it may have on the children. If the relocation does not seem to be in the best interests of the children, a judge might refuse to let the children change their primary residence. In that situation, the parent proposing the relocation could move and accept less parenting time.

Relocation cases can be some of the most emotional family law situations that arise when parents share custody. Understanding the laws that govern co-parenting relationships can help adults advocate for their parental rights regardless of what changes their family undergoes.