It’s common after a divorce for one parent to relocate to another city or state. This may be for a new job, a new spouse, or a chance to start a new life. Whatever the reason, one parent’s move will have a major impact on custody.
If parents can’t agree on how to handle custody after the move, then the decision will be left up to a judge. A judge will evaluate many factors to decide the custody arrangement best suited to the child’s needs. Relocation custody decisions can be complicated, and it’s important to know what circumstances may affect your case. If you have questions after reading this article, contact a local family law attorney for advice
A child’s best interests are central to any custody decision. Courts consider a number of factors to create the type of custody and visitation arrangement that will best serve the child’s emotional and physical needs. Some of these factors include:
A judge will award joint or sole physical custody and joint or sole legal custody of the child after considering these factors and anything else that might be relevant to the child’s well-being. Parents can share legal custody even when one parent has sole physical custody. However, the parent with sole physical custody (also called the “custodial parent”) may have an advantage when it comes to relocating with the child.
A “relocation” is more than a move down the street or even across town. If the parents share joint or legal custody, a relocating parent must provide the other parent with 45 days advance notice of a move out of state or a move that is equal to 100 miles away within the state.
The non-moving parent then has the opportunity to petition the court to prevent the relocation. Even if a judge refuses to grant the relocation, this doesn’t mean that one parent can’t move. Instead, it just means that the parent can’t move with the child.
When considering a parent’s request to prevent a move or get permission to move with a child, a judge will look at how the move will negatively impact the child’s well-being. Each side will submit evidence and a judge will hold a hearing to determine if a relocation should be allowed and if so, how to adjust custody. At the hearing, a judge will hear live testimony from each parent, friends, relatives, teachers, or anyone else with relevant testimony. If a guardian ad litem was previously involved in your case, he or she may also testify at the relocation hearing. Specifically, a judge will consider the following:
For example, in one Arizona case, a trial court prevented a mother from moving out of state with her child because she didn’t have a good reason for the move. In this case, the mother had remarried and her new husband was seeking a welding position in the northeast. The trial court concluded that move was unreasonable because the stepfather had no training as a welder and no job justifying the move. Ultimately, the court of appeals instructed the trial court to rehear the case and consider other factors such as the effects of the move on the child.
The parent who is trying to move with the child has burden of proving that the move is in the child’s best interests. While courts recognize each parent’s rights to travel and further a career, those rights must be balanced against the child's best interests and the other parent’s right to maintain a meaningful relationship with the child.