Divorced parents may want to move for any number of reasons, like a new job or remarriage. But before you make plans to pick up and move with your child, you need to consider the potential impact on your current custody and visitation arrangements. Depending on how far you're planning to move, you may have to go to court first. And if your ex is planning to relocate with your child, you may try to prevent the move or change the current custody arrangements. Read on to see how Colorado law addresses parents' relocations.
There are two basic types of child custody in any state: legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody deals with parents' rights to make the important decisions about their children's lives, while physical custody concerns where the kids live most of the time. Colorado uses the terms "decision-making responsibility" (legal custody) and "parenting time" (essentially a combination of physical custody and visitation).
After a divorce, one parent may have primary parental responsibility if the other parent has the child fewer than 90 overnights a year. But even when both parents share joint parental responsibility, the split is rarely exactly equal (50/50). Rather, one parent usually has the child more than half the time. The details of these arrangements (including the schedule of parenting time) will be included in a parenting plan.
(Learn more about Colorado's child custody laws, including parenting plans, how judges make their initial custody decisions, and the requirements for modifying existing custody arrangements.)
Colorado law has specific requirements that apply whenever a parent who has the child most of the time (the "majority-time parent") plans to move far enough away to have a substantial impact on other parent's time and relationship with the child. As soon as it's practical, the parent who's planning that type of move must notify the other parent in writing. The notice must include:
(Colo. Rev. Stat. § 14-10-129(1)(a)(II) (2023).)
It's important to remember that parents don't need permission from a court to move. But a long-distance move that involves changing the child's primary residence will almost always affect the other parent's time with the child—which means there will need to be a modification of the existing parenting schedule.
Parents always have the option of agreeing on how a proposed move will change their current parenting time. (They can also agree ahead of time, in their original parenting plan, on how they'll handle future moves.)
When you and the other parent have been able to agree on a revised parenting plan, you'll need to submit it to the court, along with a motion (written legal request) for a modification. Judges will usually approve these agreements as long as they appear to be in the children's best interests.
If you and your child's other parent can't reach an agreement on how a relocation will change your parenting plan, you'll need to have a judge decide for you. The moving parent will usually file a motion for a modification of the current parenting time based on the relocation. The other parent may propose a different revised schedule or even seek to become the majority-time parent—meaning that the child would live most of the time with the nonmoving parent.
As with all custody matters, the judge's primary consideration will be the child's best interests. But that doesn't automatically overcome the parents' competing constitutional rights: one parent's right to move and the other parent's right to maintain a close relationship with the child. The judge will have to weigh all these interests when deciding whether to allow a parent to relocate with the child, as well as whether (and how) to modify the parenting plan in light of the planned move. (In re Marriage of Ciesluk, 113 P.3d 135 (Colo. 2005).)
When Colorado judges are deciding on modifications of parenting time related to a relocation, they must consider all of the circumstances that affect the child's best interests, including the factors that go into original custody decisions. They also must take all of the following into account:
(Colo. Rev. Stat. § 14-10-129(2)(c) (2023).)
Relocation motions can be complicated, especially when you consider that a parent's long-distance move with a child can have serious consequences for the other parent's ability to maintain a close ongoing relationship with the child. And, as we've seen, judges need to carry out a delicate balance between the competing needs and interests of both parents and the child.
It's always best if you and the other parent can resolve your disagreements without heading to court, either on your own or with the help of mediation. But if you can't manage that, at least consider speaking with a knowledgeable family law attorney who can explain your rights and responsibilities, and the best way to move forward.