When parents make the decision to divorce, the changes can be overwhelming. After a divorce, it's common for one parent to want to relocate, but this can interfere with custody plans and result in decreased visitation and increased costs for visits. In some cases, relocation will require a change in custody. In North Dakota, unless the custodial parent has permission from the other parent, they will need to ask the court for permission before moving with the child.
If parents can't decide who should have custody of a child, a court will need to make the decision for them. The court will consider evidence presented by both sides, including witness testimony and expert opinions (if any), and then make a recommendation based on the best interests of the child. The best interest factors are all equally important, and include:
Once the court evaluates all the factors and evidence, it will issue a custody order. The order will be specific to your individual family and will describe who has physical custody (where the child lives) and legal custody (who makes decisions about the child).
Parents can share physical and legal custody, or the court can award sole physical custody to one parent and joint legal custody to both. The court order will often designate one parent as the custodial parent and should include a specific visitation schedule for the non-custodial parent.
It depends. If one parent has sole physical custody, they can't change a child's residence to another state unless they receive either court approval, or the other parent's permission. However, a court order may not be necessary if the other parent hasn't exercised parenting time for one year, or if the other parent moved to another state and is more than 50 miles away from the custodial parent's home.
If parents share physical custody of the child, neither parent can relocate with the child unless they have court approval or consent from the other parent. Additionally, they will need a new custody order from the court granting the moving parent sole physical custody. To modify custody, a parent will need to show there has been a significant change of circumstances since the last custody order, and that a change in custody is in the child's best interest.
Before the court will allow a custodial parent to relocate with a child, the parent needs to show that the move is beneficial for the child using the best interest factors. Parents may believe they are making the best choice for the child, but the court does not presume a move is in the child's best interest simply because the custodial parent is making the decision.
For example, in a North Dakota case, a mother asked the court for permission to move to Seattle with her child, but failed to prove that it was best for the child. The court explained that the father was previously awarded parenting time and always exercised this time with his child, so a move would harm the relationship between the child and his father. As a result, the court denied the mother's request to relocate.
In addition to evaluating the best interest factors, a court will also consider the following:
If the court finds that relocation is in the child's best interest, it will give the custodial parent permission to move. In one 1989 case, a mother petitioned the court to relocate and in response, the father petitioned the court to deny the move and grant him sole physical custody of the child. Ultimately, the court approved the mother's request to move because there were enhanced opportunities for the mother in the new location, and the child was well-adjusted and would adapt easily to his new home. The court denied the father's request to modify custody stating that he failed to prove a significant change of circumstances, and failed to prove that a change in custody would be in the child's best interest. To preserve the relationship between the child and his father after the move, the court increased the frequency and duration of visitation between father and son.
If you are considering a relocation, or if you are the non-custodial parent in a relocation case, you should contact an experienced family law attorney near you.