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How to modify a custody agreement

The custody order in your divorce may not make sense forever. While your parenting plan or custody arrangement may work at the start, you may find it is inconvenient or even harmful for your kids. If this is the case in your situation, you may want to make changes to the existing order.

In order to modify a custody or visitation agreement, you must show there is a significant change in circumstances. Here is a basic overview of custody modifications in Washington state.

Legal forms

The first step is looking at and filling out the proper forms. You must file a "Summons," which is a document that informs the other parent about your court action. Additionally, you must file a "Petition for Modification of Adjustment of Child Custody Decree." In these documents, you will need to prove that a modification is necessary because of a change in circumstances and to serve the best interests of your children. 

Major changes

Washington law distinguishes major and minor modifications. Major changes require more evidence and may be more difficult to achieve. A major modification means the residence and custody decree experiences a significant change. In order to make this type of modification, you must generally prove one or more of the following:

  • The kids are in danger in their current environment.
  • The children are spending more time with the noncustodial parent with approval from the other parent.
  • Both parents agree to modify the residential schedule.
  • The other parent is consistently failing to comply with the custody decree or parenting plan.

You must also attend an "Adequate Cause Hearing" to argue your case to make such a change.

Minor changes

Not all custody changes are circumstantial. Minor modifications are easier to achieve. You may want to change holiday visits or change the hours of pick-ups and drop-offs. If the change does not significantly change where the child lives, it is simpler to accomplish.

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