Modification of Parenting Plan in Washington State (Clark County, WA) Part I

As an experienced Family Law Attorney in Clark County (Vancouver) Washington, one of the most contentious aspects of a Family Law case is usually the Parenting Plan.  Two parents who are used to seeing their children on a daily basis are now faced with the fact that both parents will not see their child/children every day, even if that parent is the primary parent.  Moreover, as time goes on events change that may make the original parenting plan obsolete or other circumstances have arisen to justify a change to the parenting plan.  This article will be broken down into multiple parts, to allow for ease of reading and in its entirety will focus on the process to go about requesting a modification of a parenting plan and discuss the legal standards in general terms.

Modification of Parenting Plan Justification

The first thing you have to do is be able to justify to the court why you are filing this action in the county where you are filing it. The basis for filing in the county where you are filing can be met if:  You live in this county; the child/ren live in this county; the other parent (or non-parent custodian) lives in this county; the parenting/custody order that I want to change is from this county.  Be aware that the other party could potentially request that the venue be changed to another jurisdiction. Ultimately the court will decide whether it is appropriate to keep the matter where you file it.

Modification of Parenting Plan Adequate Cause

Then, under Washington Law, there must be what is called Adequate Cause to justify a full hearing on the issue of the modification.  Put simply, an adequate cause determination is simply a determination by a judicial officer that the moving party has enough facts to allow the Petition to move on to a full hearing.   The proponent must establish that there has been a substantial change of circumstances of the child or children or the non-moving party and the modification is in the best interests of the children since the original parenting plan was entered.  Some examples of this could be the non-moving parent has developed a drug or alcohol problem, that the parents have not followed the parenting plan for a long period of time and that a parenting plan should be entered that reflects what the parties have been doing for that long period of time. 

Types of Modifications to Parenting Plans

There are a variety of different types of modifications you can make to a parenting plan.  First, you can request a minor modification under RCW 26.09.260(5), (7) and (9).  Section (5) involves if the proposed modification is only a minor modification in the residential schedule that does not change the residence the child is scheduled to reside in the majority of the time and

1. Does not exceed twenty-four full days in a calendar year; or

2. Is based on a change of residence of the parent with whom the child does not reside the majority of the time or an involuntary change in work schedule by a parent which makes the residential schedule in the parenting plan impractical to follow; or

3. Does not result in a schedule that exceeds ninety overnights per year in total, if the court finds that, at the time the petition for modification is filed, the decree of dissolution or parenting plan does not provide reasonable time with the parent with whom the child does not reside a majority of the time, and further, the court finds that it is in the best interests of the child to increase residential time with the parent in excess of the residential time period in (a) of this subsection. However, any motion under this subsection (5)(c) is subject to the factors established in subsection (2) of this section if the party bringing the petition has previously been granted a modification under this same subsectionwithin twenty-four months of the current motion. Please note that relief granted under this section shall not be the sole basis for adjusting or modifying child support.

A Minor Modification of Parenting Plan Can Happen

Under Section 7 of 26.09.260, a minor modification of the parenting plan can occur for a parent with whom the child does not reside a majority of the time and whose residential time with the child/children is subject to limitations under RCW 26.09.191(2)(3) (see my article in the legal blog section for a detailed analysis of these limitations) may not seek expansion of his or her time under this section  unless that parent demonstrates a substantial change of circumstances specifically related to the basis of limitation.  Under Section 9 of 26.09.260 if a parent is required by existing parenting plan to complete evaluations, treatment, parenting or other classes, that parent may not seek expansion of residential time under subsection 5(c) of this section unless that parent has fully complied with such requirements.  Part II of the article will address major changes to a parenting plan under RCW 26.09.260(1) and (2).