How to file a modification of parenting plan in Washington state

Image by succo from Pixabay
Image by succo from Pixabay

For anyone co-parenting with another person not living with them, a parenting plan is essential. Parenting plan modification is a serious decision because it can affect the welfare of the children involved. If you want to know how to file a modification of parenting plan in Washington state, you’ve come to the right place.

The reason you need to change the plan must be something that has changed since the filing of the last parenting plan, and unknown to the court at that time. It’s also required to have a good cause for your change, and it must be in your child’s best interest.

How to File a Modification of Parenting Plan in Washington State

Parents modifying a parenting plan in Washington State must first determine if the change is major or minor. Then, file for a Notice of Hearing for an Adequate Cause Hearing. There, parents either get a temporary plan, a dismissal, or are sent to begin mediation. 

Determine Which Changes You Want to Make

Changes to parenting plans can be made for many different reasons, and fall into two categories: major and minor changes. Your first step is going to be figuring out precisely what changes are needed, and why. Your next step will be deciding what kind of change it is.

For minor changes, there may be no hearing necessary. In the case of major changes, parents must appear at an “adequate cause hearing.” At that hearing, a judge will review the proof that change is needed.

When parents agree on these parenting plan modifications, in Washington state, courts will often process the paperwork and approve them without much fanfare or questions. However, when a co-parent contests the change, the court requires that the parents back up their need for a change with clear evidence.

Identify Whether It Is a Major or Minor Change

There are many different reasons that people need to make changes to an established parenting plan, which we cover in detail in this article, along with how to prove a major change.

Minor changes are small ones, such as for a parent whose work schedule moves to a different shift, making the current plan impractical. They do not exceed 24 days a year or change the child’s primary residence.

In general, that type of change will not alter the agreement significantly, leaving it mostly intact.

On the other hand, major changes are those that alter a plan significantly. That kind of change happens when one parent either gains or loses a significant amount of time.

For minor, uncontested changes, you probably don’t need a lawyer, but for major ones, you should contact a family law office to make sure you have everything in order.

Can The Custodial Parent Change Visitation?

Yes. Any parent that wants to modify their custody arrangement in Washington State must file the proper legal forms with the court. They must file what is called a “Petition for Modification of Adjustment of Child Custody Decree/Parenting Plan.” The filed petition must then specify whatever changes to the custody agreement the parent is seeking.

Speak to Your Family Law Lawyer

While learning how to change a parenting plan in Washington state, you find that an important part is determining what kind of change you are making. If you are making a significant change, or are not sure what kind of change to make, you should contact a parenting plan lawyer you trust.

They can help you determine the changes needed, and give you the peace of mind that all of the necessary paperwork is in order. They can also structure your proof in the most effective way if the other parent chooses to contest the change.

Complete Necessary Forms

You can find every form you need to complete online at the Washington state court website. One of the primary forms required is the “Petition for Modification of Adjustment of Child Custody Decree/Parenting Plan.” There are other forms; your situation will determine which you need.

There are several stages through which the change goes before a hearing takes place. Those steps include the service of the petition to change the agreement to the other parent unless they sign onto the request for change. 

Once you have filed correctly, the next step is a hearing.

Notice of Hearing

While simple, the notice of hearing step is crucial. The Notice of Hearing tells the other parent clearly that there will be a hearing, the date, location, and time of the hearing; that hearing will determine whether there is adequate cause to change a parenting plan.

Adequate Cause Hearing

This is the hearing at which you will present your evidence that there is sufficient cause to modify your previous parenting plan. If the change is needed, and in the best interest of the child, they will probably allow it.

It is possible to file a Motion for Temporary Order, which causes a temporary plan for parenting to be put into effect on that same date. So urgent changes can happen on that day. After that order, discovery may continue if the co-parents wish it.

If the parents can agree on the changes, then presenting an “Agreed Order” will end the case. If they can not, then the case proceeds to mediation, and from there, either an agreement or a trial.

Be aware that if the court finds there is no “adequate cause,” they will dismiss your petition. If they find that you have filed frivolously, such as to harass the co-parent, you may end up paying for it, literally. The court could award that co-parent a judgment for the costs of the hearing.


In mediation, a neutral party attempts to help the parents to come to an agreement without having to go to trial. However, they can not make decisions for either party. If you had mediation during your divorce, the rules are basically the same for parenting plan changes.

Mediators can be anyone unbiased in the issue, but in most cases, it’s best to have someone that understands the law. You can use a lawyer as a mediator if you wish. It’s a good idea to make sure that the mediator you choose is someone you both trust.

In some cases, mediation can be waived, such as for domestic violence.

Can I file an emergency modification of custody?

To file an emergency motion to modify child custody, you need to determine that you have an emergency cause. Then, file a motion laying out all evidence that the modification is necessary. After it is filed as an emergency, you will be brought into court quickly for a hearing on the issue. The judge will typically make a determination that day.

Can You Modify a Parenting Plan Without Going to Court?

No. Any parent that wants to modify an existing parenting plan must file all appropriate legal forms through the court, including a petition for modification. When requesting modification of a parenting plan or child custody, the petition should specify all custody changes.


The earlier mentioned “Agreed Order” is the resolution to your case unless it goes to trial. For cases that go to trial, the judge will determine what is best for you and your child. The agreed-upon new parenting order is then in effect, and the old order is invalid.

Picture of JARROD HAYS


Jarrod Hays is the founder of Skyview Law. He is licensed to practice law in Washington State and the Western District of Washington State Federal Court.

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