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by Samuel K. Darling, Bellevue Divorce Lawyer

This article explains how to modify temporary orders in a Washington divorce or family law matter. There are many reasons a party might seek modification. Among others, the court might have authorized a review hearing, a party’s income might have changed, or the Guardian ad Litem might have issued his or her report.

Table of Contents
1) Change in Circumstance Required
2) Common Circumstances When Modification Warranted
3) Process of Filing Motion for Modification

I. Change in Circumstances Required.

The party requesting modification of temporary orders much prove a relevant change in circumstances. Often people confuse this with the standard necessary to modify most types of final orders, such as a parenting plan, child support, or the decree’s maintenance award. Modification of these types of final orders requires a “substantial change in circumstances.” For temporary orders, the change does not need to be “substantial”. Arguably even small changes suffice.

II. Common Circumstances When Modification Warranted.

The following are the most common changes in circumstance leading to modification of temporary orders. They are not the only bases though. Any relevant change in circumstances should qualify.

1. Court Authorized Review Hearing. This happens when the court EXPECTS a change in circumstances. The court will make a determination on temporary orders but specifically authorize a review hearing to re-evaluate. The most common example starts with an unemployed party’s request for financial relief. The judge or commissioner often grants the relief but orders him or her to search for work and authorizes the other party to file a motion for a review hearing. Our firm has a separate article on forcing an unemployed spouse to work. That article details the typical procedures involved, including filing a motion for a court-authorized review hearing.

2. Court-Set Review Hearing. Similar to a court-authorized review hearing, jurists sometimes set an exact date for the parties to return and re-evaluate temporary orders. Again, this is common when the court orders a spouse to find work. Our firm’s article on forcing an unemployed spouse to work details this procedure as well.

3. Parent Does Something Dangerous. Often a party will file a motion for modification of the temporary parenting plan if the other party hurts or endangers the children during the case. Safety is the highest-level concern when formulating a parenting plan. Relevant endangerment might include drug use, domestic violence, molestation, and more. In these instances the court might suspend or limit the dangerous parent’s time with the children and appoint a Guardian ad Litem (GAL). Our firm has separate articles on the factors the court considers when formulating a parenting plan, the various types of parenting plans (including restrictive ones), and GALs.

4. Income Change. A change in a party’s income – such as a raise or job loss – might be reason to file a motion to modify the temporary financial orders. The parties’ incomes impact calculations for temporary child support, maintenance, and attorney fees. Often they also impact who stays in the former family home or pays the former family’s bills.

Just make sure the motion is worthwhile before drafting it, especially if working with an attorney. It might not make sense to hire a lawyer to file a motion for modification of temporary orders if the motion would only improve your financial position by a few thousand dollars. Keep in mind, temporary orders expire at the case’s end.

Of course, improving your position in the temporary financial orders sometimes has an impact beyond the temporary order stage. It sets expectations when the parties negotiate final orders, such as at mediation. It can also impact a judge’s expectations at trial. Trial judges are not supposed to consider the status quo established by temporary orders, but they sometimes do, despite their best efforts. Judges are human.

5. Temporary Attorney Fees Exhausted. A party might renew a request for temporary attorney fees if the prior award is exhausted. Spending the money can be sufficient change in circumstances. See our article on attorney fees.

6. GAL Report Issued. A GAL, if appointed, will investigate and issue a report with recommendations about parenting. Either party can then file a motion to adopt the GAL’s recommendations as a modified temporary parenting plan, and the court usually agrees with the request. There is a large exception, however. Jurists often decline to adopt a GAL’s recommendations when trial is a short time away. Disturbing children’s routines can be traumatic.

7. Additional Relief Needed. Requesting temporary orders on topics the court did not previously address is not modification, but it entails the same general process.

III. Process of Filing Motion for Modification.

Our firm has a separate article on filing a motion for temporary orders. The same process applies here. If you have an emergency, such as if opposing party did someone constituting an immediate danger to the children, instead see article on obtaining an immediate restraining order.

The two above-mentioned articles, in turn, send you to our article on How to Draft a Declaration in support of your motion. The article includes an example declaration in support of a motion to change a temporary order.

That’s it! We hope this was helpful. Our firm believes in making quality legal information available for free on the internet. For more, click the resources tab in the upper right corner.

Or call us at 866-631-0028 to speak with a Genesis divorce lawyer in Bellevue or Everett, Washington. From all of us at Genesis, we wish you the best with your family law matter.

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