Child Custody and Relocation Laws in Maryland

Learn how Maryland courts handle custody and visitation disputes when parents want to move with their children.

By , Legal Editor
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We live in a mobile society, and divorced parents want or need to move to a new place as much as anyone else. But a relocation—particularly if it's a considerable distance away from the other parent—could affect your current visitation schedule. That's why you might have to give notice before moving, and why either parent may go back to court to seek a change in the existing parenting plan. Read on to see how Maryland law addresses the issues around a parent's relocation and custody.

When Maryland Parents Must Give Notice of a Planned Move

Custody or visitation orders in Maryland may include a requirement that parents give advance notice (to the other parent, the court, or both) at least 90 days before they plan to move. The notice requirement may apply to:

  • a relocation of the child's or the parent's permanent residence, and
  • a move of any distance within or outside of the state.

The judge may spell out exactly what should be included in the notice and whether it should be in a particular form. Regardless of those details, the moving parent must send the notice by certified mail (with return receipt requested) to the other parent's last known address. (Md. Code, Fam. Law § 9-106(a) (2023).)

Exceptions to the Notice Requirement

Even if your custody orders require notice before a move, the judge may waive the requirement if you can demonstrate there's a good reason for not letting your ex know about the relocation—including the fact that it would expose you or your child to domestic abuse. (Md. Code, Fam. Law § 9-106(b) (2023).)

Can Parents Agree on a Notice Requirement?

If you and your child's other parent can agree on a parenting plan, you always have the option of including a requirement that you'll give each other notice before moving with your child. You could also agree ahead of time on how you'll handle any future disputes about relocations and custody—such as an agreement to try mediation before going back to court.

You'll need to submit your plan to the court, but the judge will approve it as long as it appears to be in your child's best interests. The plan will then become part of your official custody orders.

Relocations and Changes to Parenting Plans in Maryland

Whether parents share joint physical custody of their children or one parent has sole custody, the kids usually live primarily with one parent (the "custodial parent"), while the other parent has a certain amount of visitation ("parenting time). The schedule for parenting time is included in the parenting plan and custody orders. (Learn more about child custody in Maryland, including parenting plans and how to change or enforce custody orders.)

When one parent relocates a considerable distance away from the other parent, the move is bound to call for at least some adjustment in the current parenting schedule. As with their original parenting plan, the parents may agree on those changes and submit their agreement to the court, along with a petition to request a change in the existing custody orders.

If the parents can't agree on how to change the parenting plan as a result of the move, a judge will have to decide for them. After one or both of the parents file a petition for a modification, the court will schedule a hearing on the issue.

How Soon Will a Judge Decide on a Relocation Request?

It can often take quite a while to get a hearing and a decision on custody disputes. But Maryland law requires the courts to set hearings about proposed relocations "on an expedited basis," if either parent:

  • files the petition within 20 days after a notice about the move, or
  • regardless of the time since the notice, files a petition about a proposed move that would significantly interfere with the nonmoving parent's ability to maintain the current parenting schedule.

(Md. Code, Fam. Law § 9-106(a)(4) (2023).)

The law doesn't say exactly how soon an "expedited" hearing must be scheduled. But courts should prioritize these hearings in their calendar.

How Do Judges Decide Whether to Allow a Relocation?

It's worth pointing out that adults have a constitutional right to travel, which includes changing their residence. So when a judge is asked to decide about a proposed relocation, the question isn't whether the judge will allow the parent to move. Instead, the question is whether there needs to be a change in the current custody arrangements and parenting schedule as a result of a parent's plan to move with a child.

As with any request for a custody modification in Maryland, the judge will go through a two-step process when making a decision:

  • Does the proposed move qualify as a material change of circumstances? First, the judge will decide whether the prospective changes associated with the move would have an impact on the child's welfare. Maryland courts have found that relocations may or may not qualify as a material change in circumstances, depending on the specific situation. For instance, a custodial parent's long-distance move with the child could have a negative effect on the child's ability to maintain a close relationship with the noncustodial parent—particularly when that parent has taken an active role in the child's life. A relocation might also affect the child's schooling and relationships with extended family members, friends, and a religious community.
  • What's best for the child? If the proposed move meets the changed-circumstances requirements, the judge must then decide whether the requested modification in the custody arrangements or parenting schedule would be in the child's best interests. When making that decision, the judge will have to balance the benefits and disadvantages to the child of moving with the custodial parent, while considering all of the factors that go into original custody decisions in Maryland (such as in a divorce).

(Braun v. Headley, 750 A.2d 624 (Md. Ct. App. 2000).)

For example, when the parents will be living far apart as a result of the move, the judge might change the parenting schedule to allow longer visits with the noncustodial parent over the summer and other school breaks, rather than frequent, shorter visits during the school year. But in some situations, a judge may find that it would be best for the child to change which parent has primary physical custody, so that the child would stay in the same community and live with the nonmoving parent.

Will a Parent's Notice Violation Play a Role in the Judge's Relocation Decision?

If you failed to meet a requirement in your custody order for advance notice of a planned move, Maryland law specifically allows a judge to consider your violation when deciding any future dispute over custody or visitation (which would include a modification motion based on move).

However, you might get around a failure to meet the 90-day time limit for the notice in some circumstances. If the other parent files a legal proceeding based on your notice violation, the judge may consider the fact that the relocation was necessary and that you gave notice within a reasonable time after learning that you had to move. (Md. Code, Fam. Law § 9-106(c) (2023).)

Getting Help With a Planned Relocation in Maryland

When you're planning a move, the first thing you should do is check your existing custody order to see whether it included a requirement that you provide advance notice. If so, make sure you follow all the instructions.

Whether you're the moving parent or the one staying behind, you—and your child—will always be better off if you can work out an agreement about a planned relocation and how it will affect your current parenting plan. That way, you can avoid the stress and expense of going to court, and you'll have more control over the outcome of your situation.

But if you can't agree, even with a mediator's help, you should know that disputed modification proceedings can be complicated and difficult for lay people to navigate successfully. If at all possible, consider speaking with a family law attorney who can evaluate your case and help you gather the kind of evidence you'd need to convince a judge to rule in your favor.

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