What if a parent thinks the Permanent Parenting Plan is harmful to the child?
Washington allows "Permanent" Parenting Plans to be modified, drastically or in a minor way under specified circumstances only. RCW 26.09.260, Modification law attempts to balance conflicting child welfare goals: on the one hand, child custody litigation is generally emotionally and financially difficult for all involved and when a Plan is finally created, by agreement or by trial, the legislative intent is that it be allowed to stand until the child reaches the age of majority (18 yrs. per RCW 26.28.010). This protects the child and both parents from the turmoil of serial custody litigation. On the other hand, treating a Permanent Parenting Plan as absolutely unchangeable would result in some children becoming vulnerable to worse harm than another custodial litigation. Washington law has chosen to balance these conflicting objectives by requiring all parents who seek to change an existing Permanent Parenting Plan to demonstrate that their Petition has legal merit. RCW 26.09.260. This is done by requiring a preliminary hearing commonly referred to as a “threshold” or “adequate case” hearing. The purpose of such hearings is to ferret out potential custody cases that have legal merit from those that do not. If the "adequate cause" judicial hearing officer is not persuaded that the petitioning parent has met the preliminary showing of need for modification to proceed, the case is summarily dismissed. RCW 26.09.260.
What do I have to prove at an “adequate cause” hearing?
A parent seeking to modify an existing Parenting Plan such that the child’s primary residence will be changed to the petitioning parent's ("major modification") must prove that the child’s current Plan is so detrimental to the child that the legally presumed harm of modifying that Plan is overcome by how much better off the child would be under the proposed Plan. RCW 26.09.260. See "forms" tab above for the mandatory modification petition form. In other words, before being allowed to proceed to trial, a modification petitioner must establish not only that the child would likely do well with the petitioner, but also that the requested change is necessary because of the significant possibility of harm to the child if the current Plan is not changed.
What are the grounds for modification of a Parenting Plan?
RCW 26.09.260 controls the legal basis for Plan modification. In addition to the harm/benefit analysis discussed above, a child’s residential schedule may be modified because the parents have in practice, not followed a Plan and the child has consequently become accustomed to the actual residential schedule the parents have followed. This is referred to as “integration” of the child into the petitioner’s household (RCW 26.09.260). The Plan may also be changed by parental agreement and on the other bases stated in RCW 26.09.260.
What is the difference between a major and a minor modification?
“Major” and “minor” residential schedule modifications are delineated by RCW 26.09.260 according to the number of days the proposed change would make to the child’s current residential schedule. Parents have less difficulty proving the need for “minor” modification than a "major" modification that would result in a change of the child's primary care-giver and residence. RCW.26.09.260.
“Minor” modifications can also be obtained to change non-residential provisions of a Plan including the Plan's parental decision-making procedure. RCW 26.09.260.