The custodial parent is the parent who is granted custody of a child or children by a court in a divorce or child custody proceeding. Typically, if an individual is the primary custodial parent, they may be able to relocate with their child.
Whether or not an individual can relocate their child out of state will depend on the child custody laws of the state and whether or not the noncustodial parent agrees with the relocation. The majority of states allow the primary custodial parent to relocate with their child as long as the move is beneficial to the child.
Common reasons that the court may find a move to be beneficial for the child include:
- New job: A new job that provides more disposable income for the custodial parent is one of the most common beneficial reasons given for relocating a child;
- Remarriage: Another common reason given for relocation is that the custodial parent has remarried;
- This is often seen as beneficial because there are more caretakers available for the child. Further, the additional disposable income is also seen as beneficial;
- Educational opportunities: A custodial parent who is seeking relocation with their child for educational opportunities, for example, being accepted into a graduate program, will often be allowed to relocate by courts; and
- Family connections: Relocating to a different area to be closer to family is often viewed as being beneficial for the child.
In many cases, the noncustodial parent will not agree with the relocation of the child and a dispute may arise. Unless there is an express agreement with the noncustodial parent for relocating, the court will determine whether or not to permit it.
When determining whether or not to grant a custodial parent’s request for relocation, the court will use the child’s best interest standard. Under this standard, the court may examine several factors when determining whether a relocation is in the child’s best interest, including, but not limited to:
- Child’s opinion: If a child is old enough, the court may consider their preference regarding the relocation. For example, the court may consider the child’s preference to remain in their current location, in order to not:
- lose friends;
- miss out on extracurriculars; or
- change schools;
- Distance of move: A court will consider the distance of the move when determining whether the relocation is in the best interest of the child. For example, courts will favor a shorter or in-state move over a long distance move. This is because shorter moves will often have less of an impact on the child’s relationship with the noncustodial parent than long distance moves;
- Quality of life: The court will consider whether or not the child’s quality of life will improve if they relocate. This means that courts will examine all of the beneficial reasons for the move, for example, educational benefits;
- Agreement by noncustodial parent: A court will examine whether or not the noncustodial parent agreed to the move. If the noncustodial parent is in agreement with the move, the court will likely grant it; and
- Intent of relocating parent: A court will look at the intentions of both parents when determining the child’s best interest. A court will not look favorably upon a parent who does not provide adequate notice to the other parent of the move;
- For example, if a custodial parent’s reason to move is to prevent the other parent from interacting with the child, a court will likely not grant the relocation. In general, it is in the child’s best interest to have a continued and meaningful relationship with each parent.