In general, property and debt orders in a Decree of Dissolution may not be modified after the case is finalized. Child support and maintenance may be modified until the order expires. Parenting Plans may only be modified by agreement, or after a special hearing to show that you have met the minimum threshold for a minor or major modification.
PARENTING PLAN MODIFICATIONS
There are two basic types of modifications, minor modifications and major modifications. Also, you must get the court’s permission at a threshold hearing to proceed with the case. If you file a petition for modification and the court determines that the threshold has not been met, your case will be dismissed.
RCW 26.09.260(5) provides that: The court may order adjustments to the residential aspects of a parenting plan upon a showing of a substantial change in circumstances of either parent or of the child. . . 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:
(a) Does not exceed twenty-four full days in a calendar year; or
(b) 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
(c) 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.
The court will only modify a Parenting Plan if, based upon facts that have arisen since the parenting plan was entered, there has been a substantial change in circumstances and the change would be in the best interests of the child. RCW 26.09.260(1).
(2) In applying these standards, the court shall retain the residential schedule established by the decree or parenting plan unless:
(a) The parents agree to the modification;
(b) The child has been integrated into the family of the petition with the consent of the other parent in substantial deviation from the parenting plan;
(c) The child’s environment is detrimental to the child’s physical, mental or emotional health and the harm likely to be caused by a change of environment is outweigh by the advance of a change to the child; or
(d) The court has found the non-moving parent in contempt of court at least twice within three years because the parent failed to comply with the residential time provisions in the parenting plan.
The court also has authority to restrict visitation if one of the limiting factors in RCW 26.09.191 is shown (e.g. physical, sexual or emotional abuse, abandonment, or a history of acts of domestic violence).
The court may permit or restrain the primary residential parent from relocating. RCW 26.09.260(6). The relocation act is also set forth in RCW 26.09.405, et. seq. (meaning the sections that follow).
The court may make adjustments to the parenting plan if the non-residential parent fails to exercise visitation time for one year, or more. RCW 26.09.260(8).
A conviction for custodial interference (parental abduction) in the first or second degree is a substantial change of circumstance by definition. RCW 26.09.260(3).
Because of the need for a threshold hearing, it is wise to prepare as much of your case as you can before filing your petition. Unless there is an emergency, records of criminal convictions, school and medical records and other documentation should be obtained prior to filing a petition due to a detrimental environment.
It can be very difficult to file a petition for major modification without the assistance of an attorney. If you do proceed and the court determines that your case was brought in “bad faith,” the court has the authority to make you pay the other side’s attorney fees. RCW 26.09.260(11).