Late last year, I wrote about a pair of appellate decisions severely restricting the options of a parent wishing to relocate with a child when the parenting plan provides for the child to spend 50% of his or her time with each parent. See Snider: Relocating Children With 50-50 Parenting Plans and Bergerson: More on Relocation in 50/50 Plans. In those articles, I suggested that the situation would require a legislative fix or perhaps a decision of the Washington Supreme Court.
The legislature appears to have fixed the problem in Substitute Senate Bill 5399, signed by the governor in April of this year. It becomes effective July 28, 2019. The bill changes the Child Relocation Act (CRA) to apply to plans providing for “substantially equal residential time.” Any plan that provides for the child to reside with each parent 45% to 55% of the time is one that provides for “substantially equal residential time.”
In cases involving “substantially equal residential time,” either parent may seek to relocate with the child. If a parent wants to relocate, that parent must give the other parent the notice required in the CRA (usually 60 days). There is no presumption that the relocation will be allowed. The court will consider the same factors as in other situations to determine whether the relocation will be allowed, ultimately considering the best interests of the child.
With this change, relocating a child with a 50/50 parenting plan is far easier than it used to be. However, it is still harder than it is for a primary residential parent, with whom the child resides more than 55% of the time, to relocate with the child. In the latter case, only the primary residential parent may relocate with the child, and there is a presumption that a proposed relocation will be allowed. In 50/50 plans, either parent may seek to relocate the child and there is no presumption.
The good news is that this legislative fix allows a court to consider the best interests of the child when a parent with whom the child spends approximately 50% of the time must relocate.
However, this does change the calculation that separating parents must make when deciding whether to agree to a 50/50 plan, especially in San Juan County, which is a group of islands served by ferries. Prior to this legislative fix, it was very difficult in 50/50 parenting plan cases for a relocating parent to relocate the child out of the county. This may have been comforting to parents not wanting their child to be moved away from the county by the other parent. This legislative fix makes it much easier to relocate the child. The result may be to make parents more reluctant to agree to 50/50 plans.
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