Relocating to a different state can result in unwanted consequences for divorced parents. Moving may affect your child custody and visitation rights. Travel restrictions can be placed on divorced parents who have custody of their children. The final judgment in your divorce proceeding may prohibit you from taking the child outside a certain geographical distance from where you were living when you divorced.
Moreover, some state laws may mandate you to inform your former spouse before you plan. Your former spouse may object since a long-distance move could affect their relationship with the child. When this occurs, the court will need to hold a hearing to determine whether you can move with the child.
In other states, you may request the court’s permission to relocate through a formal petition process. If you fail to adhere to this process, you could be held in contempt of court. Remember that penalties for being held in contempt after relocating without permission could result in fines and even jail time. It is advised to try to resolve a relocation dispute with your former spouse outside the court if possible.
Mediation by a neutral third party might facilitate reaching a solution acceptable to both of you. This might mean adjusting the visitation rights of your spouse to make up for the move.
How Does the Court Determine the Validity of Relocation?
Sometimes a court hearing is necessary because the spouses cannot reach an agreement. The standards in these hearings can vary by state. The hearing might start with a presumption that the relocation is permitted unless the non-moving parent can show that the move would harm the child’s best interests. In other states, typically, the opposite is true.
The hearing starts with a presumption that the relocation is not allowed, which the moving parent must defend by showing that the move will serve the child’s best interests.
In all states, however, courts will examine the child’s best interests in considering whether a parent living with the child can relocate. Some commonly known factors in deciding this include the parent’s intent in planning or resisting the move, prior agreements about relocation between them, and the child’s relationship with other family members in the area where they currently live.
For instance, the court will want to ensure that the moving parent is not planning to relocate, only to undermine the child’s relationship with the other parent.
If the child is mature enough, the court may consider the child’s preference regarding the move, but this factor will not decide the dispute. The court has the discretion to determine how the relocation will affect the child’s development and quality of life and the child’s relationships with each parent. If the other parent also can relocate, the court might be more likely to allow the move.
The same is true if forbidding the move would harm the moving parent’s financial situation. Many times people relocate due to their jobs. If a parent who resides with a child loses their job because a court blocks the relocation, the parent would be less able to provide the support that the child needs. But each situation is unique; therefore, the outcome of a court’s decision is very difficult to foresee.
Does One Parent Have an Advantage in Relocation Proceedings?
Usually, there is a preference for stability in relocation proceedings. This means that the primary custodial parent has an advantage because there must be good reasons for removing a child from their primary caretaker. However, a child’s best interest is the ultimate factor in any custody case.
For example, in one DC case, a judge permitted the child’s mother (custodial parent) to relocate with the child to Virginia. The child’s father objected to the move because it would reduce his visitation with the child and remove her from where she grew up. The court permitted the move because the child would be closer to her extended family and could attend a school owned by her aunt. In the end, the move served the child’s best interests.
How Does a Court Determine a Child’s Best Interests?
Each parent could testify and present evidence at a relocation proceeding. You need to come prepared to a relocation hearing with any evidence demonstrating how a relocation would benefit or negatively impact your child, depending on which side you are on.
Specifically, a judge will consider the following factors when determining whether the custody should be adjusted based on one parent’s relocation:
- The relationship between the child’s parents;
- The child’s adjustment to the school, home, and community in the present location;
- Each parent’s physical and emotional health;
- The potential disruption of a child’s schooling by relocation;
- The geographical proximity of the proposed relocation;
- Each parent’s prior involvement in the child’s life;
- Each parent’s employment demands;
- The sincerity of each parent’s request;
- The moving parent’s reasons for relocating and;
- The parents’ abilities to financially support a joint custody arrangement.
Can You Relocate After the Divorce?
It varies case by case. If you have valid reasons to move, you will have to request a judge for permission to move your child out of state. The judge will consider several factors and decide whether to allow you to take your child out of state.
But if you do not follow the court’s order and move your child without getting the court’s consent, you can face significant consequences.
Does Relocation serve the Best Interests of the Child?
When disputes like this arise, courts consider whether child custody relocation is in the child’s best interests. If not, they can mandate the custodial parent to remain in the state.
Child custody relocation laws vary significantly among the states, especially when it comes to the following:
- Requirements for relocating with a child;
- What notice must be provided;
- Whether there are any consent requirements and;
- State laws also vary on what presumptions courts can apply in a case.
Many states only permit child custody relocation if a custody agreement exists with a provision allowing relocation and a proposed visitation schedule. This generally occurs during the original child custody hearings and is contained within a clause in the child custody plan.
What is the Process of Notice and Consent for Relocation?
Some states require a custodial parent to give written notice to the non-custodial parent of an intended move within a specified time. In addition to a notice requirement, some states also mandate that the non-custodial parent either consent or object by filing a motion to prevent relocation.
For Distance-Based Determination, many states allow a child custody relocation based on distance. For instance, if the new location is within a certain distance, the court may block the relocation even if within the same state.
When Do I Need to Contact my Lawyer?
If you are a custodial parent and are considering relocating, it may be useful to seek an experienced local child visitation attorney in your area to assist you with the legal process and requirements.
But if you are the non-custodial parent and you feel the child is unjustly being relocated, you may also have legal options to block the relocation if it serves the child’s best interests.