Relocation: Follow the Rules or Pay the Penalty

The UCCJA is a law that controls which court has jurisdiction to make custody and visitation decisions about your child when you are getting or have gotten a divorce or separation.  It is important to now about this law if you are considering relocation. It says that, in most cases, if a child moves out of state, the old state is still the child’s “home state” for six months after the move as long as one parent lives there.

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Any court action within the first six months after relocation will probably need to take place in the old state.  If you have no parenting plan, and the other parent stays in Washington and files a court case, you need to respond and be ready to return to Washington.  It is important to follow all the rules in this area as you can face court sanctions including contempt and the requirement of moving back to the home state you left without the court’s permission.

If you want to move within the same school district you must provide notice to every person entitled to visitation of your new address, phone number, and any new daycare provider or school

You can tell the other parent in person, by email, or hand them a letter.  Keep a copy of what you give them for your records.  No one may object to this type of relocation.

Moving to a New School District

If you are the custodial parent under the parenting plan and you want to move with your child outside of the school district you are in now, you must give notice of your intent to the other parent and anyone entitled to visitation. The rule is that you must give notice at least 60 days before the date of your intended move either:

  • through personal service or
  • by any form of mail that requires a return receipt

Exceptions to the 60-day notice requirement

If you would like to move with the child but you do not have 60 days in which to give notice before the move, you must give notice within five days after you actually know you are moving.

To avoid any delay or confusion, file your notice in the same court that entered your divorce or parenting plan.

Failing to Give Notice

Failure to give the proper notice of relocation is grounds for sanctions by the court, including contempt.  If you move without giving any notice, or if you move after giving an improper notice, the court may impose penalties.  Such penalties can include ordering the child to move back to your old location in Washington (or to the other parent’s home) and/or ordering you to pay the other person’s attorney’s fees and costs.

If the court finds you in contempt, it could order jail time, fines or some other type of punishment. If the court finds you in contempt more than once in a three-year period, it can decide to grant custody to the other parent.

Timing Your Move

You should wait until 60 days have passed after giving notice before you move normally.  You may not move the child during the first 30 days without a court order, unless you can show that the other parent will not object. If no one files an objection within 30 days, the law permits the relocation. You may then go ahead and move. On the other hand, if someone DOES file an objection, the judge makes a final decision about that objection, and only then or until you get a court order allowing you to move on a temporary basis should you consider moving.

The person who objects to the relocation must schedule a hearing within fifteen days using a motion to restrain you from moving if s/he wants to stop you from moving temporarily before the court makes its final decision.  Even if the objecting person does not ask for a restraining order to stop you from moving, think carefully about moving before the court makes a final decision.  If you are unable to follow the existing parenting plan after you move, then you run a very serious risk of the court holding you in contempt.

Even if you could follow the parenting plan, you run the risk of the judge thinking it was in “bad faith” to move after the other parent objected.  You also run the risk of having to move your child twice if the court’s final order does not allow you to move the child permanently.


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