Marriage doesn't always last forever. When parents divorce, separate, or remarry, they may want to begin new lives miles apart. It's not uncommon for one parent to move to a new city or state. Yet, a move is never simple when children are involved. In some situations, a judge may prevent a custodial parent from moving out of state with a child. Whether you're a parent trying to relocate for work, or a parent committed to staying put, it's important to understand how one parent's relocation can impact custody.
When parents split, they can work out their own custody arrangements or leave things up to a judge. A child's best interests are paramount to any custody decision. A custody order will define which parent has physical custody (where the child resides) and legal custody (the right to make decisions regarding the child's health, education, and welfare). Parents can share legal and physical custody, one parent can have sole physical and legal custody, or parents may split legal, but not physical custody. Custody arrangements and visitation schedules can vary greatly depending on your family's needs.
A judge will evaluate a child's best interests to determine the custody arrangement that best fits your family's needs. Specifically, a judge may consider:
One parent can later modify custody if a substantial change in circumstances has occurred.
In some situations, a parent's relocation is enough of a change to modify custody. For example, in one Connecticut case, a court switched custody to the child's mother following the father's in-town move to a smaller, more crowded home because the new situation wasn't in the child's best interests.
A relocation that justifies a change in custody is usually more than a short move. Typically, a parent's relocation warrants a custody adjustment if it will significantly change one parent's visitation, a child's opportunities, and/or a child's overall well-being. One parent must provide the other with notice of plans to relocate. The non-moving parent can file an objection and request that the court hold a hearing to review custody based on the proposed relocation.
Each parent will have the chance to present evidence and testify at a relocation proceeding. A judge can never prevent a parent from relocating out of state. However, the court can stop a parent from taking the child out of state by changing custody.
In relocation proceedings, the parent planning to move bears the burden of showing that the following circumstances exist:
Once the relocating parent has demonstrated the above two factors, the burden shifts, and the other parent must show that the move won't serve the child's best interests. Specifically, in one Connecticut case, a lower court initially changed custody because the relocating mother couldn't show that the move was in the child's best interests. A higher court struck down that decision because it put an unfair burden on the relocating parent.
A judge will also consider the other parent's reasons for opposing the relocation, the child's relationship with each parent, the impact of a move on visitation with the non-moving parent, and ways the child could benefit economically, emotionally, or educationally through relocation. If a child is of a reasonable age and sufficient maturity, the child's wishes regarding relocation will hold significant weight in the proceeding. Ultimately, a judge's decision will based on your child's best interests.