When a couple with children go through divorce or legal separation, child custody will need to be decided. The parents may either agree on a custody arrangement together, seek help from a mediator or present their cases before a judge who will decide the custody arrangement. 

A child custody order will then be entered, which is legally binding and enforceable. If it can be accomplished, then courts will always favor custody orders that allow both parents to maintain frequent and continuing contact with the children, as this generally benefits the children.

Sometimes, one or both parents will need to move or relocate, whether it be for a new job opportunity or personal reasons. However, this can cause some issues problems with the child custody order if the move would interrupt the custody and visitation schedule

The parent needs to consider whether the move is necessary and how it will affect their children. They should also get informed on any legal consequences that could result from the move.

Things to Consider Before Moving and Sharing Child Custody

If you are a divorced or separated parent who is subject to a child custody order and are thinking about moving, there are certain steps you will need to take. These can make the process smoother, and will include the following:

  • Consider Your Children’s Needs First: Think long and hard about whether you need to make the move or transfer, and whether doing so is in the best interest of your children.
  • Evaluate Your Own Motives: Courts will typically not look favorably on you if it appears that your intended move is designed to interfere with the other parent’s visitation or custody rights.
  • Review the Child Custody Order: Check the current order to determine if it addresses parent relocation. If it doesn’t, check whether your move would make the current parenting schedule impractical or unworkable. If you are moving far away, then the schedule will possibly be disturbed, especially if both parents have significant custody and/or visitation rights.
  • Prepare for Court Hearings: Before taking the matter to a family law court, meet with a local family attorney to discuss your options. A family law attorney can inform you of your chances of receiving a move away order and can file a motion on your behalf. 
    • If you are the parent with the most custody rights, you’ll need to come up with a plan that would allow the other parent to have frequent and continuing contact with the children. This may include giving them substantial visitation time during summer or extended school breaks.
  • Provide Sufficient Notice: You will need to give the other parent proper written notice of your intent to move. Your current custody order or your state’s laws will likely require this notice to be sent.

Bear in mind that moving only a short distance away will likely not pose a problem. Issues will arise when a parent intends to make a significant relocation. This can include such situations as moving out of state or hours away from their current place of residence. You should prepare for some amount of resistance to the move from your children, other parent, and the court.

What Factors will the Court Consider when Relocating?

After filing a motion for a move or relocation away order, the court will have to evaluate the situation to determine if the move is in the best interests of the children. If evidence shows that the move will create a significant risk of harm or inconvenience for the children, then there is a good chance that the motion will be denied.

In most states, the custodial parent will have the right to relocate and take their children with them. If the other parent disagrees with the move, then they will have to present sufficient evidence to convince the court that the move would be detrimental to the child’s welfare. 

When determining this, the court will consider several factors, such as:

  • The Children’s Ages: For example, if the child has completed the majority of their schooling in one area or region, and is almost done with high school, the court may find the move detrimental for the child.
  • Community Ties or Community Involvement: This could include involvement in extracurricular activities, school activities, community volunteer groups and church groups. 
    • For example, if the child is a high school student who has a sports scholarship dependent on them completing the season with their school sports team, this could be a reason to deny the move order.
  • Special Health or Educational Needs: An example of this is if the child has a health condition where they would receive the best medical treatment in the area they already live in, the move order could be denied.
  • The Preferences of the Children: In some cases, the judge will sometimes allow the children to testify as to where they want to live. This will usually be a discretionary judgment call up to the judge.
  • Other Significant Ties to the Area: If this child has a job or other responsibilities, this could be viewed as another reason to deny the move order.

If the court finds that the move would be harmful are disadvantageous to the children in any way, it can deny the move order and modify the current custody order accordingly. On the other hand, if the parent who wishes to relocate presents more evidence showing that the move would improve the quality of life for the children, then the court will likely grant the motion. This is even more likely to happen if they are the primary custodial parent and the other parent is only allowed visitation.

Do I Need an Attorney for a Parent Relocation Issue?

Parent relocation can be a complex situation that affects child custody orders, and requires legal assistance. An experienced child custody attorney can advise you of your legal rights and the state laws that will come into play. Your attorney can also prepare you for any challenges to the move and come up with a plan that is beneficial for the children and both parents.