So, you reached an agreement with your spouse or the child’s other parent. You came together, worked hard, and found an outcome that was the best for your kids. You were ecstatic, overjoyed. But then you notice the other spouse is doing something wrong. Something that you don’t think is good. And you ask the court to let you take a second crack at things, only to watch the court kick you to the door, with just two words in explanation. Adequate Cause.
Adequate Cause is a standard created by RCW 26.09.270. It states that the court cannot allow a permanent custody order to be overturned without showing that there is ‘adequate cause.’ Adequate Cause has been defined by the courts as a substantial change of circumstances. The determination of a substantial change must be grounded on facts that have arisen since the prior decree or plan or that were unknown to the court at the time of the prior decree or plan.
In essence, the court requires some major change in the kids’ lives before the court will reopen a custody case. The reasons for this are twofold. One is that the courts believe that stability is key to the lives of kids, and every time they change custody, they are risking destroying the fragile sense of security the kids have. The second more practical one is that the court doesn’t want to constantly be relitigating custody actions it just decided.
Whatever the reasons though, the truth is the statute can be a formidable bar for individuals seeking to modify a custody order. Pleading facts correctly can make the difference between success and failure. People often make the mistake of just saying what is concerning them. “He doesn’t have heat in his home!” This is a valid concern. But if it isn’t properly framed, it can still end up with you losing the adequate cause hearing.
The first thing to do is remember, this is about showing a “substantial change.” So, in asking for adequate cause, you need to talk not just about how things are, but how things were. You need dates and times things changed. You need to document how that affects the kids. All of these things can take a simple allegation of “He doesn’t have heat in his home” and make it into a lock-tight case. “When the order was entered, my former spouse had his own apartment. However, since the entry of the order, he’s moved into a travel trailer. My children report that the travel trailer is frequently frozen, especially in the winter months. He states to them that there is no heat, and they will have to deal.”
There are some things that cannot be used as a basis for adequate cause. The one I most commonly see is the fact that nonpayment of Child Support cannot be used to find Adequate Cause. No matter how uninterested your child’s other parent is in providing support, the court will not restrict their time with the child based upon it. Even if the court holds them in contempt multiple times, it won’t be sufficient.
There are some things that represent the automatic adequate cause. Two findings of contempt regarding residential time represent the automatic adequate cause. In other words, if your child’s other parent is denying your time with the children, you need to be worried about having them held in contempt.