Child Custody and Relocation Laws in Delaware

There’s no guarantee that a judge will allow a parent with primary custody to simply move with the children.

When parents divorce and continue to live in the same city, they typically have a custodial arrangement that allows the child to rotate frequently between both parents' houses, so that each parent continues to play a role in the child's development. But what happens when one parent wants to move away?

As this article will explain, courts take the relocation of a parent very seriously and will consider many factors when deciding how the parents will share custody after a parent moves. There's no guarantee that the judge will allow the parent with primary custody to simply move with the child. Keep reading to discover what factors will come into play when a parent wants to relocate with a child.

Overview on Custody in Delaware

Delaware courts determine child custody and visitation in accordance with each child's best interests. Judges consider a number of factors when determining the appropriate child custody arrangement:

  • each parent's desire for custody
  • the child's wishes
  • the child's relationship with each parent, other family members, and anyone else living with either parent
  • the child's relationship with the current home, school, and community
  • the parents' and child's physical and mental health
  • each parent's history of caring for the child, and
  • whether either parent or other household member has a history of domestic violence or other crime.

If a parent is moving away from another parent who has at least some custodial rights and visitation, the court will review each of the above factors to determine whether the child should stay with the remaining parent or be allowed to move with the child.

Generally, courts will consider modifying the child custody order when it determines that continuing the existing order will risk damaging the child emotionally or physically. In the context of a relocation, judges pay particular attention to whether the proposed relocation will harm the child from the loss of relationship with the remaining parent.

When a Parent Wants to Move

When both parents exercise visitation with a child, one parent's desire to move will always create a situation where the court will review custody. First, it's important to point out that a judge can't order a parent not to move. Citizens are generally free to move around as they like. What the court can decide, however, is whether it's in a child's best interest to move with the relocating parent.

When deciding whether to allow a parent to move to another state with a child, the court will look closely at the child's relationship with each parent. If, for example, the parent intending to move with the child has had primary custody of the child and a significantly closer relationship, the court may determine that it's best the child be allowed to move with that parent. The judge can put in safeguards to ensure that the child maintains a good relationship with the non-moving parent. For example, the court may grant the remaining parent additional holiday visitation or longer summer visits to account for the lost regular visitation. A remaining parent will also typically have the right to very regular telephone contact, calls via Skype or FaceTime, and email contact if age-appropriate.

Protecting the Non-relocating Parent's Relationship with the Child

Judges are particularly sensitive to a parent attempting to remove the other parent from the child's life by moving. For that reason, courts will look to see if the moving parent has a history of denying the other parent contact with the child or otherwise interfering with the existing custody order. If the moving parent has been obstructing the other parent's ability to have a relationship with the child, that may be cause for the judge to transfer primary custody to the non-relocating parent.

You can expect the court to also carefully scrutinize the reason for the move. The moving parent will have the burden of showing a legitimate reason for relocating, such as a job transfer. When deciding the request is valid, the court will look at such factors as whether the move will increase the quality of life for the parent or child, and whether the move comes with a financial, emotional, or educational opportunity for the parent or child. For example, a parent moving with a child to be closer to extended family will be viewed more favorably than if a parent wants to move with the child to a new location just to get a change of scenery.

The court's determination of custody when a parent wants to relocate is complex and includes many factors. If you or your child's other parent wants to relocate with your child, you should contact a local family law attorney for assistance.

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