If you're a parent, you know that your life became profoundly different after your divorce or break-up. On the one hand, you're now free to form relationships with new romantic partners or to investigate new educational or employment opportunities. But on the other hand, your ability to pursue these promising new prospects is limited because you don't want to leave your kids behind. If you or your ex want to move away with your children ("relocate"), you need to understand the law and what it takes to be able to start over somewhere else.
Louisiana has a very detailed and specific set of laws pertaining to relocation. If you want to move away with your kids, or if you want to stop your ex from moving, you have to know about the laws and comply with them.
Louisiana defines a child's principal residence as the location determined by court order or, in the absence of a court order, as the location where the parents agreed the child would live, or the location where the child has lived for the majority of the last six months.
A "relocation" occurs when the child's principal residence changes for 60 days or more. If the residence changes for less than 60 days, it's considered a temporary residence and isn't subject to the relocation laws. Relocation laws apply to cases where:
When it comes to parents, only the following kinds of people can ask to relocate with minor children:
The moving parent must notify the other parent about the proposed relocation in advance. Notice has to be written out and sent to the other parent via registered or certified mail, return receipt requested, or be delivered by a commercial courier. Notice must include the following information:
The relocating parent is obligated to promptly update the notice as soon as possible if the facts change or new information becomes available.
The moving parent has to provide notice at least 60 days before the move is scheduled to occur. In the alternative, in rare circumstances, if the relocating parent did not and could not reasonably have known the required notice information in time to provide a 60 day notice, and if it's not reasonably possible to extend the time for relocation, notice can be provided no later than the 10th day after the date the relocating parent has all the required information.
If a relocating parent fails to provide notice to the other parent, the following things can happen:
If the non-moving parent receives notice and doesn't agree to the move, that parent has to make an objection within 30 days of receiving the notice. The non-relocating parent has to write down the objection and send it to the relocating parent via registered or certified mail, return receipt requested, or have it delivered by a commercial courier. However, a parent with equal physical custody doesn't have to make a written objection.
If your ex wants to move away with your kids and you object, you absolutely must write and deliver your objection within 30 days of receiving notice. If you don't, the relocating parent can initiate a summary court proceeding (meaning, a quick hearing that the non-relocating parent won't participate in) and the judge will then allow the move.
Maybe. If a non-relocating parent objects to the move, the relocating parent has to set up a "contradictory hearing," which is a kind of trial where the court considers testimony and evidence about whether the move is in the child's best interests and whether it should be allowed or blocked. At trial, the burden of proof is upon the relocating parent to show that the move is being made and that it serves the best interests of the child. The court will schedule a trial within 60 days.
When the non-relocating parent objects to a move, the relocating parent may not take the child away from the current principal residence until a judge has made a final decision. The only exception would be if the court agreed to a request from the relocating parent to issue an "interim" (temporary) order allowing the move before there's a final decision. If a judge gives a relocating parent a break by letting that parent move before the final disposition of the case, the order will be conditioned on the parent's promise not to disrupt the other parent's scheduled visitation time. The relocating parent also has to agree to return the child to the original principal location if the move is ultimately denied.
If you haven't gotten an interim order, don't move away with your kids over your ex's objections. Consult a lawyer first. Moving without following the law can have very serious legal ramifications.
At trial, the judge will listen to testimony and consider evidence about whether the move is in the child's best interests. The court has to consider the following factors:
The court will consider these factors regardless of whether it's making an initial (first) custody decision or whether it's modifying a previous custody and visitation order. A judge can only modify an existing custody order if the objecting parent first shows there's been a chance of circumstances, meaning there's been a major change since the last order. However, if a moving parent takes the child and leaves without the other parent's permission, or a court order, the court can consider that act of defiance, in and of itself, to be a change of circumstances justifying a modification of the original order.
If the court needs help or more information to determine the child's best interests, it can appoint an independent mental health expert to investigate and make a follow-up report.
When the trial is complete, the judge will apply the facts to the law and issue an order either allowing or denying the request to relocate the child. If the court decides to allow the move, it will alter the custody and visitation schedules. The judge also has the power to require the relocating parent to pay reasonable economic security (meaning, a bond) into the court to guarantee that moving parent won't interfere with the non-relocating parent's visitation rights.
Whether you're asking for a relocation or opposing one, it's important that you act in good faith. If the judge concludes that you're proposing or objecting to a relocation for the purpose of harassing the other parent, causing unnecessary delays, or increasing the costs of litigation, a judge can sanction (punish) you, and order that you pay the other parent's attorney's fees and court costs.
If you or your ex have custody or visitation rights and want to relocate with your children, you should contact an experienced Louisiana family law attorney for help.