In today’s mobile world, it’s common for divorced parents to relocate. If a custodial parent finds opportunity in a new location, they must consider how the move will affect the children and the other parent.
Review Your Custody Order
It’s important to understand the terms for relocation in your current custody order. Most orders restrict the custodial parent from moving out of state, or out of the country, without asking for permission. For example, in Michigan, custodial parents can’t move more than 100 miles in-state from the child’s primary residence without both the court’s and other parent’s permission. Whether the court will permit a move will depend on the facts of your case, and if the move is in the child’s best interest.
Some states have specific requirements for parents who want to relocate with their children. Before moving, you may need to provide formal, written notice to the court and your child's other parent. If the other parent disagrees with the proposed move, he or she can object and ask for a court hearing so a judge can decide the matter.
During a relocation hearing, you will need to explain to the court why you want to move and why bringing the children is in their best interest. If a relocation won’t benefit the children, a judge may not approve the move.
Parents need to show that they are proposing a move in good-faith and not to get in the way of the other parent’s visitation with the children. If you have found a better employment or educational opportunity, you should be able to explain how you will ensure the child and other parent’s relationship will continue and who will pay for and provide transportation for parenting time. When noncustodial parents object to a proposed move, they must be able to show the court why a move isn’t in the child’s best interest and how it would harm the child.
What Happens if I Don’t Obtain Permission?
Custodial parents have an obligation to follow the terms of the court order. If you violate your order and move without permission, you may risk being in contempt of court. Contempt of court punishments may include:
- a monetary fine
- change of custody, and/or
- jail time.
In addition to the above consequences, custodial parents must understand that if they relocate without approval, the court may require them to bring the child back to their home state. A child’s home state is located where any court order or court activity has occurred. Any costs associated with bringing the child home is the custodial parent’s responsibility. Once the child is home, neither parent can relocate with the child until the court completes a custody and parenting time evaluation.
How Will a Court Decide?
Many move-away cases end up in court. Different state laws have varying factors that judges must consider, but the primary concern is always what’s best for the children.
In some states, courts presume that a custodial parent’s decision to move is in the child’s best interest, which means that a non-custodial parent must have evidence to show that a relocation will harm the child and the parent’s relationship with the child.
If there is no presumption, the custodial parent will need to show the court why a move is best for the child. During a relocation hearing, a judge will consider many factors, including:
- the impact the move will have on the child’s education, family, and social life
- whether the moving parent is proposing relocation, or the noncustodial parent is objecting to relocation, in good-faith
- whether the custodial parent has a history of interfering with or denying parenting time to the noncustodial parent
- if either parent has disobeyed court orders in the past
- the financial impact on both parents, including travel costs
- the child’s opinion (in some states)
- if the child has special needs
- the impact a relocation will have on the child’s quality of life, or
- any alternative to relocation for both parents and the child.
Communication is often one of the biggest hurdles in move-away cases. You are more likely to reach an agreement if both parents can have frequent and continuing contact with the children. Parents should consider making alternative parenting time arrangements, such as long summer visits for the noncustodial parent, to make up for the loss of visitation during the school year.
Mediation is a process that may help parents decide without the need to involve the court. During this process, parents will meet with a neutral third person who is knowledgeable in custody and relocation matters. While negotiating a mediator will help direct the conversation to stay on topic, and even pose hypothetical situations for parents to consider while deciding. For example, if a custodial parent moves 250 miles from the other parent, any mediation agreement should address travel expenses for the child, including who will be responsible for the costs. If you can agree, the mediator will create a written agreement for both parents and a judge to sign.
Move-away cases can be expensive and challenging. If you are proposing a move, or if you need to object, you should contact an experienced family law attorney near you for advice.