If you are sharing parenting duties with a former spouse and desire to relocate for any reason-work, cost of living, or just a simple new beginning-you may have difficulty renegotiating your custody arrangement. Whether you have sole custody or you share custody, if you want to take your child or children with you when you move, expect a reevaluation of the custody arrangement.
Your initial custody and timeshare (your “co-parenting plan”) may have been the product of agreement between the two of you or it may have come following a bitterly fought and expensive custody battle. Either way, the end result was either an expression of what the two parents felt was best for the children or what the Court felt was best for the children, the focus being on what was best for the children. Such is the case as well when one parent desires to relocate far enough away from the other parent that it will impact significantly on the non-moving parent’s time with the child. We’re not talking a move to a different neighborhood ten minutes away; we are talking about moves to different cities, counties, states and sometimes even out of the country.
Remember that if you and your ex are unable to come to an agreement for a new parenting plan that encompasses a move away, then the Court will be there to make that decision for you, and the primary focus of the Court in this regard revolves around the child’s best interests.
If these move-away custody disputes reach court, they are subject to a host of legal standards and burdens of proof, requiring a deep understanding of the law and an attorney who has many years of experience dealing with these issues. When deciding based on the best interests of the child, the Court will consider the child’s relationship with each parent, the ability of each parent to provide a safe, loving, stable environment, the ties a child has to his or her current location (friends, school, extracurricular activities, or the child’s socialization, things of that nature), and other important factors that influence the child’s well-being. Additionally, the Court will likely allow a custody expert to investigate and evaluate the intended move in the context of what is best for the child and then provide the court with their opinion on this subject.
All this unfolds in the context of a contested hearing (a “mini trial”) that can and often does span several days over a period of many weeks or months. Additionally, if someone seeks the Court’s assistance in this regard (whether to keep the child local or allow for the move to take place this can be (and usually is) a very expensive undertaking, and the reason for that is plain: the intended move will in most cases reduce a child’s time with his parent not just significantly but drastically, carrying with it a wide range of consequences that will impact the child (and the parents) for the rest of their lives.
In making its decision the Court also seeks to respect the wishes and interests of the parents as much as possible, but those wishes will never trump the best interests of the child. And remember, what serves the child’s best interests is a subject of dispute and disagreement between the parents but the Court has the final say on this subject. If the move will significantly hinder your co-parent’s efforts to spend time with the children then you must consider making a plan to continue those visitations while your case is pending in the Court. Since that is a process that can (and very often does) take months to resolve, any delay in bringing this matter to the attention of the Court only serves to exacerbate the tension that exists between the parents who must deal with the intended move, and that is not good for anyone.
Consulting an attorney experienced in move-away cases well in advance of an intended move can simplify this process and can help to ensure that the best interests of the children are being protected.