How does relocation affect child custody arrangements in Washington?

Understanding Child Custody in Washington State

In Washington, child custody arrangements are determined with the best interests of the child as the central focus. This includes considering the child's emotional needs, relationships with parents, and stability of living environment. When one parent decides to relocate, it can significantly disrupt the established custody arrangements and necessitate a reevaluation by the court.

The Impact of Relocation on Custody Arrangements

Relocation can be a complex issue in custody agreements as it often challenges the feasibility of the existing parenting plan. In Washington, if a custodial parent plans to move, they must provide notice to the other parent. This notice is typically required at least 60 days before the intended move, or within 5 days of learning about the need to relocate if it's due to an emergency.

Upon receiving this notice, the non-relocating parent has the option to object. The objection must be filed within 30 days, leading to a hearing where both parents will present their cases. At this point, factors such as the reason for relocation, its impact on the child's well-being, and how it will affect the relationship with the other parent come into play.

Legal Precedents and Considerations

Historically, cases like In re Marriage of Littlefield have highlighted the importance of maintaining continuity and stability in a child's life post-divorce. Washington courts have shown a pattern of carefully weighing each parent's reasons for or against relocation and their potential benefits or detriments to the child's life.

For example, if a custodial parent wishes to move for a significant job opportunity that would improve their ability to provide for the child, this may be viewed favorably. However, if moving would severely limit the non-custodial parent's access to their child and visitation rights, the court might rule against relocation.

Modifying Custody Arrangements

When relocation is approved, custody arrangements may need to be modified to accommodate new schedules and geographic considerations. This could range from adjusting visitation times to reevaluating which parent should have primary custody based on who can best meet the child's needs post-move.


Relocation is a delicate issue that can drastically affect child custody arrangements in Washington. Both parents must navigate legal channels and advocate for their positions while prioritizing their child's well-being. It is often advisable for parents facing such situations to seek legal counsel familiar with Washington State's family law statutes to ensure that they are acting within legal parameters and in their child's best interest.