When parents divorce or separate, a court must issue a custody order, which will define (at a minimum) legal and physical custody, child support, visitation, and custody exchanges. Custody orders are tailored to the unique circumstances of each family. Parents can share legal custody (decision-making power on child's behalf) and physical custody (where child resides), or one parent can have sole physical and/or legal custody. Your custody arrangement will depend on your family's needs, daily schedules, and your child's best interests.
A judge will evaluate several factors to determine the arrangement that best serves your child's needs. Specifically, a judge will consider:
A parent moving out of state must provide the other parent with written notice of the plans to relocate. If the child's other parent doesn't consent to the relocation, the moving parent must file a motion for permission to relocate.
The moving parent bears the burden of proving that the planned relocation is made in good faith and will serve a child's best interests. A court won't automatically modify custody simply because a parent wants to move. Ultimately, a judge won't allow a parent to relocate with the child unless it serves a child's best interests. All these factors will be assessed at a relocation hearing.
Both parents should expect to attend and testify at the hearing. You should bring any evidence or witnesses that support your claims. For example, you may want to bring copies of your child's report cards, attendance records, or doctor's visits to make your case for why a relocation is or isn't appropriate. The relocating parent must be acting in good faith. In other words, a judge won't allow a move where the custodial parent is relocating just to limit or interfere with the other parent's visitation. Specifically, a judge will evaluate:
In addition to considering each parent's reasons for seeking or opposing the move, a judge may also look at:
For example, in one Nebraska case a mother was permitted to relocate with her children to Virginia. The mother had full physical and legal custody of the couple's children, but the father exercised frequent and reasonable visitation. Although the move would reduce the father's time with his children, the court allowed the mother to relocate because she was relocating for her new husband's job, the children would enjoy a good quality of life and education in the new location, and the move wouldn't substantially interfere with the father's visitation, since he would have the children the entire summer and every school break. Essentially, the court allowed the move because it served the children's best interests to remain with their mother.
In another Nebraska case, the court allowed a mother to move with her daughter to South Dakota for her new husband's job. The new husband sought a higher paying job that would allow the mother to stay home with her daughter and her child from the new marriage. Although the move meant that the child would live 4 hours away from her father, the court found that it served the child's best interests by giving her a better quality of life and because she would still be able to see her father and extended family regularly.