Child Custody and Relocation Laws in Colorado

Find out what happens to custody when one parent relocates.

By , Attorney

Sometimes divorced parents relocate because of a new job or remarriage. But before you jump at the chance to take a an out-of-state promotion, you should consider the potential impact on custody.

If you and your spouse share legal or physical custody, you can ask a judge to allow you to move with your child or to prevent your spouse from relocating out of state with your child. After evaluating a child's best interests, a judge may decide to adjust custody based on the proposed move. Judges must consider several factors when making these decisions.

What Happens When One Parent Plans to Relocate?

A custodial parent (parent with primary physical custody of the child) should notify the other parent as soon as possible about any plans to relocate. The notice must:

  • be in writing
  • list the location of the intended relocation
  • list the reasons for the relocation, and
  • include a proposed revised parenting plan.

The noncustodial parent can object to the proposed relocation. When this happens, a judge will schedule a relocation hearing, which is usually placed on an expedited status. Under Colorado law, a court should schedule a hearing within 35 days after one parent files an objection.

Can I Modify Custody Based on My Ex's Relocation?

When one parent plans to move to a different geographical area, the nonmoving parent can ask a court to modify custody. Colorado's relocation statute doesn't specifically define what constitutes a "different geographical area," but it's safe to assume a move that substantially changes visitation—because the parent's new home is hours away or in a different state—qualifies as a different geographical area.

Under Colorado law, a court won't alter a custody order unless these's been a substantial change in circumstances or a significant amount of time has lapsed since the last order. This means a judge won't change custody arrangements simply because your ex-spouse switched neighborhoods. However, a cross-country move could substantially interfere with the other parent's visitation and may warrant a custody modification.

If you're the moving parent, you'll need to provide information about the schools, neighborhood, and educational and cultural activities available in the new location. For a parent opposing a relocation, you'll need to present the same sort of evidence regarding schools and community to prove your point that custody with you will best serve the child's needs.

What Factors Will a Judge Consider in a Relocation Proceeding?

In Colorado, neither parent has an automatic advantage in a relocation proceeding. For example, both parents have the burden of demonstrating what's in a child's best interests. Even if one parent has the majority of time with the child, that parent doesn't receive any special benefit when a judge is considering the request. Instead, courts will consider a child's best interests by evaluating the following factors:

  • the parent's reasons for relocating
  • the nonmoving parent's reasons for opposing the relocation
  • each parent's relationship with the child
  • available educational opportunities for the child in the present location and new location
  • presence of extended family in either location
  • advantages if the child remains with the primary custodial parent
  • the impact of the proposed move on the child's well-being
  • whether the nonmoving parent can maintain reasonable parenting time if the child moves, and
  • any other factor relevant to the child's best interests.

For example, in one Colorado case, a mother was allowed to relocate with her daughter out of state for a new job. Initially, the lower court placed an improper burden on the mother (custodial parent) by requiring her to show that the child's life would be enhanced by her proposed relocation. A court can consider a parent's reasons for relocating, but should weigh both the benefits and negative impact of a move. The court reaffirmed that both parents bear the burden of demonstrating what custody arrangement would serve a child's needs in light of a move.

Relocation cases are complicated—make sure you know what's at stake if you or your child's other parent is contemplating a move. If you have questions, you should speak to an experienced custody attorney in your area.

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