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Modifying Court Orders

There are two main types of modification actions in Washington State for family law. Our Bellevue family law attorneys can guide you through either type of case. The first is the modification of a parenting plan. The other is the modification of your child support obligation, if you have children. The courts do not generally like to modify already entered orders, as the disruption brought to the children can be high.

Generally, modification cases are completed on a shorter timeline than divorce, but many of the necessary documents are similar. To begin a modification action, the opposing party must be served with your moving papers. The core documents that are the same for all counties are the Summons, Petition for Modification, and supporting declaration. For child support obligation modification actions, it is also advisable to submit a Financial Declaration, updated proposed Child Support Order, and finance verification documents (i.e., bank statements, paystubs, etc.).

Before getting into the details of each type of modification action, it’s important to note that the court will grant a modification request only when that person can prove their circumstances have changed enough to warrant it. How do they determine what qualifies as “enough change” to warrant a modification? Our family law attorneys working out of Bellevue can help explain how the court applies their standards. If you feel the final parenting plan or support order entered with the court was unfair or didn’t take into account important information, a modification action may be reasonable. As with other family law cases, our Bellevue attorneys will tell you what you need to know so you can make an informed decision that’s in your best interests.

Parenting Plan Modification

Washington State has set forth the standards by which a parenting plan modification action may be granted by the court in RCW 26.09.260. Modification actions fall into one of two categories: minor and major modifications. A major modification action is one where significant portions of the parenting plan will be changed; most of the time regarding who’s designated as the custodial parent, and who the child resides with most of the time. A minor parenting plan modification action is one in which the custodial parent is unchanged and the residential schedule change effecting less than 24 days per calendar year.

These are not the only differences between minor and major modifications though, and the highly specific details of your case matter a great deal. The statutes structuring parenting plan modifications are complex and have many exceptions. To ensure your modification action is completed correctly and quickly, give one of our Bellevue family law attorneys a call today. The complex nature of these types of actions coupled with the court’s hesitance in granting them means retaining an experienced Northwest Law Group attorney could make all the difference in whether or not your modification is granted.

In modification cases the court’s main objective is to act in the best interests of the child or children. For the court to grant a major modification request, the moving party must prove there was a major change in circumstances since the original plan was entered. The change must fall into one of the categories listed below:

  • The parents agree to the modification
  • The child has started living with the moving party most of the time with consent from the custodial parent
  • The child’s present environment is detrimental to the health and well-being of that child, and taking them out of that situation outweighs the disruption it will bring to the child’s routine
  • The custodial parent has been held in contempt of court at least twice in the last three years due to failure to comply with provisions of the parenting plan

Most often in our Bellevue family law attorney’s experience, the court is the most likely to change a parenting plan if the moving party can show the current arrangement is detrimental to the child’s health. In situations like these, our attorneys will act quickly to ensure the safety of your child. It is every parent’s worst nightmare to have their child in an unsafe environment, so our attorneys work quickly and diligently to ensure a quick resolution to your modification action.

The specifics of a minor modification are slightly different, but there many exceptions that are too voluminous to explain here. The important considerations that constitute only a minor change in a parenting plan are:

  • Change does not exceed 24 full days in the calendar year
  • Change in scheduling due to noncustodial parent moving homes, or an involuntary change in work schedule that makes the current parenting plan inoperable
  • Change does not result in a schedule that exceeds ninety days of residential overnights with the noncustodial parent

Here again, the guiding principle is working in the child’s best interest. Thus, even in minor modification actions, the court will only grant such an action if the minor change will reasonably benefit them. For instance, if the noncustodial parent is emotionally abusive to the child and asks for increased residential time not greater than 24 days, the court would likely not grant the modification because it would be detrimental to the child.

Child Support Modification

For a child support modification to begin, the moving party must serve a summons, petition for modification, and child support worksheets. These and other forms can be found on the Washington Courts website, and can be completed pretty easily. With this said, there is a strict set of criteria under which your support obligation can be modified. For this reason, it can be extremely useful to speak with an attorney before filing. Our Bellevue family law attorneys can help analyze your case against the relevant statutes. Their analysis can inform your overall strategy of the case, regardless of if you retain us as your representative.

Aside from the multitude of exceptions outlined in RCW 26.09.170, a modification can only change support payment installments subsequent to the modification. Further, the modification will only be granted if the moving party can show a significant change in circumstances. If you voluntarily quit your job or are underemployed by choice, this is not considered a significant change in circumstances. There are exceptions though, one being if full year has passed since the support order was originally issued by the court. In these instances, the moving party does not have to show a substantial change in circumstances if they can show the current order: exerts severe economic hardship on them; if the child does not need support extended after their 18th birthday; or if the modification looks to add an automatic adjustment to the support obligation.

As you can see, there are many rules to understand when working through a modification action. One must consider various questions in order to make winning the modification more likely than not. Questions like: How much time has passed since the original order was entered with the court? What factors, other than those outlined here, might be important to ensure the court approves of the modification action? Our family law attorneys serving Bellevue know what questions to ask you to get at the most important considerations. For most clients, it is difficult to know what statutes are applicable in their case, what exceptions there might be, and what the complex interplay of provisions within a statute actually mean in practice. This is where our quality attorneys can come in and help ensure you have a winning strategy.

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