Zuanich Law Family Law Newsletter
Episode #5: Commenting on Commas   
February 8, 2021
I’ve been buried in appellate briefs over the past month.  And mid-burying, it hit me.
Preparing an appellate brief is like watching a movie. The trial record is like the movie.  You’re not sure what to expect.  You laugh.  You cry.  You cringe.  You eat popcorn. 
And every now and then:  “What the f$* just happened?”
And that is why I love appellate practice and bringing the joys of appellate cases to all of you.
So what do we got this week?
Cardwell v. Cardwell
COA – Division 3 
Feb. 2, 2021
Facts:  Kids primarily reside with Dad in Moses Lake.  Mom has visitation rights.  After Mom moved from Spokane to Moses Lake, she petitioned for nearly equal residential time.  
Holding:  Allegedly, this opinion is about RCW 26.09.260(5)(b), which deals with the standard for evaluating minor modifications to a parenting plan.
But it’s really an 18 page opinion about COMMAS.  I’m literally, no joke, so not kidding … like really.
The Court delved deeply – and I mean, literally took an excavator to the ground kind of deeply—and waded into the “last antecedent rule” statutory construction.  This means that “qualifying words or modifying words and phrases refer to the last antecedent” of a sentence.  Which means that the “presence of a comma before the qualifying phrase evidences that the qualifier is intended to apply to all antecedents instead of only the immediately preceding one.”
I mean, duh.  
Here’s an example:
Reading appellate opinions is like taking a highly addictive sedative and eating Red Robin onion rings with ketchup.
Under the last antecedent rule, the “with ketchup” only applies to the onion rings and not the “highly addictive sedative.” (Unless you like taking your sedatives with ketchup … we don’t judge here in this newsletter).  
So that’s how you read statutes, the Court of Appeals said …
…. Unless we DON’T ready them like that … sorry Mom, you’re out of luck in this case.
Basically, under RCW 26.09.260(5)(b) a Court can approve a modification based upon a change of residence of  the non-residential parent OR based upon “involuntary change in work schedule by a parent which makes the residential schedule in the parenting plan difficult to follow.”  
In this case, the court applied the “difficult to follow” phrase to the “change of residence” part of the statute. This means, in short, that a parent who moves residences must show that the current schedule is impractical in order to get a modification.
And, that, my, friends, is, how, we, have, fun, with, commas,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,
About Us: Zuanich Law focuses on criminal and civil appeals, post-conviction relief, and restoring firearm rights.  We also have an active civil litigation practice, including personal injury, landlord-tenant, business law, civil protection orders, administrative hearings, and contract disputes.  
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