Enforcement & Modification of Parenting Plans

When a couple with children divorce, the common thought is that a court will dictate both who gets custody and who gets parenting time. However, a recent study from the Washington State Center for Court Research shows that in 86.7 percent of the cases, the parents decide the issues on their own and present a plan to the court for approval. Of those who submit a mutually agreed upon parenting plan, the mother was awarded custody 61.3 percent of the time.

When these issues go before a court, they are oftentimes decided on the basis of risk factors associated with each parent. Risk factors can include a number of things including domestic violence, child abuse, and chemical dependence. The parent with low or no risk factors generally is awarded custody. If neither parent has a known risk factor, then other considerations are taken into account, with the best interests of the child always prioritized.

If your divorce has been resolved or approved by the courts in Washington, and a Parenting Plan has been issued, you may be wondering if it can be changed later by either party? If so, how and what are the reasons to justify the change? Do you have to go back to court to get it modified?

The family law attorneys at Curiale Hostnik PLLC can help you answer these and any other questions related to the enforcement and modification of parenting plans. Our experienced family law attorneys are proud to serve clients in Tacoma, Washington, and throughout the communities of Pierce County, including Puyallup, Gig Harbor, and University Place. Call or reach out today to learn more and schedule a one-on-one consultation.

Enforcing a Parenting Plan

When matters are decided by a court, the judge will issue and sign a legal document, which can be called a Parenting Plan, Residential Schedule, or Custody Decree or Order. Whatever it is called, this document becomes legally binding on the individuals to whom it is issued.

The Parenting Plan may be between you and an ex-spouse, ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend, or someone else who has been taking care of the child, such as another relative.

If one party to the Parenting Plan files a motion for contempt for non-compliance by the other party, the judge can issue a finding of contempt and order both parties to comply. If one parent, for instance, refuses visitation time for the other parent, a judge can order make-up visitation time, issue fines, or even call for a jail sentence for the parent who refuses to follow the agreement.

Making Modifications
to a Parenting Plan

Either party can file a petition to change a parenting plan. The modification request can be either major or minor. A major modification might involve seeking a change in custody, while a minor modification might simply involve a change in the days or hours of scheduled visitation.

Once the petition is filed, the court will schedule an Adequate Cause — or Threshold hearing — at which the petitioning party must prove there are good reasons for the modification. If the judge accepts the reasons and the change is minor, it may be granted at that time. If the judge agrees and the change is major, the judge will set a trial date.

Substantial Changes
to a Parenting Plan

At trial, you must show that there has been a substantial change of circumstances since the original Parenting Plan was issued. What qualifies as a substantial change may include:

  • All parties agree to the modification
  • The parent with custody has allowed the child to live with the other parent for a substantial period of time
  • The place where the child is living under the Parenting Plan has become unsafe for the child emotionally, physically, or mentally.
  • A court has held one parent in contempt at least twice in the past three years for not following the parenting plan or has been criminally convicted for custodial interference in the first or second degree.

What If the Custodial
Parent Decides to Relocate?

If you, as the custodial parent, wish to relocate within the child’s existing school district, you must simply notify the other parent — or others with visitation rights — of the new address and the contact information for any child care center or school involved.

If the relocation is outside the child’s current school district, you must again notify all persons with residential time or visitation rights of the intended move. They then have the option to file an objection with the court and serve it on you. They have 30 days to serve the objection (33 days if sent by mail) after you have notified them.

You cannot relocate during this 33-day period. This will allow the other parties to file an objection and serve it on you if they so choose. If the court schedules a hearing on the matter, you cannot move until the outcome of the hearing has been settled.

At the hearing, the court will consider a number of factors mandated by state law, but unless the objecting party, or parties, can show that the negative effects of the move outweigh the benefits to the custodial parent and child, the court must allow the relocation.

Work with Experienced
Family Law Attorneys

Getting a Parenting Plan enforced or modified, or fighting a custodial parent’s proposed relocation, are issues that are likely to end up in court. Going to court means you have to provide substantial evidence for enforcement, modification, or opposition of any proposed changes. On top of these legal challenges, you may also be forced to endure the emotional stress associated with hashing out any family disputes in court.

Don’t face these challenges on your own. Here at Curiale Hostnik PLLC, we have helped countless others just like you deal with family law issues for the past 30 years. Whether you live in Tacoma, Washington, or anywhere in the surrounding communities of Pierce County, including Puyallup, Gig Harbor, Lakewood, and University Place. We’ll be happy to discuss your situation with you and help you arrive at an amicable resolution as quickly and efficiently as possible. Call or reach out to our office today to schedule a consultation.


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