Custody arrangements come in all shapes and sizes, but a child's best interests are at the heart of any custody decision. When evaluating custody, a judge will look for an arrangement that best serves a child's needs. Your custody order will define which parent receives physical custody (where the child lives) and legal custody (decision-making power on the child's behalf). Parents can share legal custody, physical custody, or some combination of both. Your custody order will define custody arrangements, holiday and summertime visitation, child support, and possibly transportation costs if one parent moves out of state.
To determine the child's best interests, a judge will evaluate several factors, including each parent's emotional and financial stability, each parent's ability to meet the child's needs, the child's adjustment to the local school and community, each parent's willingness to foster a relationship between the child and the other parent, the child's relationship with each parent, the child's relationship to extended family, and any other relevant issues.
A custody order stays in effect until there's been a substantial change in circumstances that justifies a custody modification. In some cases, one parent's move can constitute the substantial change in circumstances required to adjust custody. For example, New Hampshire law states that relocation rules don't apply if one parent moves closer to the other parent or a parent moves to a different location in the child's current school district.
However, if one parent plans to move further away and outside the child's school boundaries, the moving parent must provide written notice of the relocation to the child's other parent. A relocation notice must be in writing, list the location of the proposed move, and be given at least 60 days before the move. The non-moving parent can oppose the parent's relocation and request for a court to adjust custody. A judge will schedule a hearing regarding the relocation.
The parent planning to relocate bears the burden of proof at a relocation hearing. Specifically, the moving parent must show the court that:
Once the moving parent has established that the move is legitimate, the burden shifts to the non-moving parent to prove that the relocation is not in the child's best interests. To determine what custody arrangement suits a child's best interests in New Hampshire, a judge may consider the following factors:
For example, in one New Hampshire case, the court denied the mother's request to relocate to Montana with her new husband and the children. Although the mother was the primary custodial parent, the court determined that a move wasn't in the children's best interests. Such a long distance move wouldn't allow the father to preserve his relationship with the children. The mother had proposed summer visits, but the court deemed it would be unfair for the children to have to choose between participating in extracurricular activities and seeing their father.
In another New Hampshire case, the court prevented a mother from relocating to Florida with her teenage children. The children's mother and father had met and married in Florida, and the child's mother wanted to return to live near her extended family. Although the mother was offered a lucrative, flexible job in Florida, the court found that the distance and time away from their father would not be in the children's best interests.