I have never lived in Washington. Our children have lived there. Can my spouse file for divorce and a parenting plan in Washington?

Filing for divorce becomes extremely complicated when spouses no longer resides in the same state. In some cases, a spouse has moved to another state right after the couple has recently announced their separation. Other times, the spouses have continued to live separate lives in different states for many years. Even if spouses live in different states, they can still get divorced.

It is not imposed on you to go back to the state that issued your marriage license to file for divorce. Instead, you can only file in the state where you or your spouse meet the residency criteria. Before a court hears a case, it is vital that the filing spouse has met the residency requirement. Each state has a different requirement regarding the length of time that a spouse must have lived there before he or she can get a divorce in the state. A few states in the United States have no residency requirement such as the Washington State.

Residents of the Washington State are allowed to file for divorce if either one of the spouses currently reside in the state. Washington laws gives leeway to its residents when granting a divorce by requiring only one spouse to declare that the marriage is ‘irretrievably broken’, citing irreconcilable differences.

What if me and my spouse live in separate states and have dependent children?

Dealing with a divorce in the Washington State with dependent child (or children), under the age of 18, would require you or your spouse to propose a Parenting Plan in order to finalize the divorce. If you have already been served with a Parenting Plan from your spouse that is not of your interest, you have a full right to contest the proposal in court and a Final Parenting Plan will then be ordered by the court. This Parenting Plan overlooks the whereabouts of the children, where they’ll be from the day of divorce till their 18th birthday and which parent acts as the primary residential parent etc. This plan is documented to meet the exclusive needs of your children.

When parents divorce, children usually find themselves in the midst of a ‘tug of war’ due to custody battle. Parents can not file for a custody in any state they reside in, rather it is the child’s home state that has jurisdiction over any other state. Under the ‘Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act’ (UCCJEA), parents can only file for custody in the child’s home state. For example, if you and your child’s other parent lived in Florida for the past 3 years, but last week you relocated to Washington with your child, Florida is still considered the child’s home state, and a custody will be handled there.

However, either parent might be in disagreement over the child’s home state and may try to file for custody where he or she lives. In these situations, the court gathers all the evidence and judges from both states decide which state should handle the case. The UCCJEA discourages two states from handling the same case as competition and conflicting results could result in a messy and prolonged divorce.

Jurisdiction requirements for Parenting Plan in Washington

Washington must have jurisdiction over the child before it can grant a Parenting Plan. If Washington has no jurisdiction over the child, parents need to file in a different state. If a child has always lived in Washington an no other state has entered a custody order, Washington has jurisdiction over them. If another state is your children’s home state, or was their home state within the last six months, Washington probably will not have jurisdiction over them until they have lived here for at least six months.

If no court has ever entered a custody order about your children, Washington may still have jurisdiction over the child if the child has lived in Washington with a parent for six months before the filing of the court case, if the child is less than six months old and has lived with a parent in Washington and if Washington was the child’s home state within six months before a court case was filed.

In case of an ‘emergency custody’, where a judge hears preliminary evidence and addresses emergency situations only, Washington may take jurisdiction over the child to protect him/her from threat of abuse.

Can there be changes made to the Parenting Plan

Once a custody order has been issued by the court, the issuing state keeps jurisdiction over the case. If an out-of-state parent wants some amendments in place, so to get some leniency and to spend some additional time with their children, they will have to file an order in the state that has issued the custody order.
And if one parent is not following the court’s orders, other parent can register the custody order and file an enforcement action in the current state of residence. Eventually, the state and parents have to work closely and in harmony to settle custody issues.

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