Moving to a different state can result in some surprising and unwanted consequences for parents who are divorced. Relocation may affect your child custody and visitation rights. Travel restrictions may be placed on divorced parents who have custody of their children. The final judgment in your divorce proceeding may forbid you to take the child outside a certain geographical distance from where you were living when you divorced.
Alternately, state law may require you to inform your former spouse of your planned move in writing, which gives him or her a chance to object. Your former spouse will likely object, since a long-distance move could affect his or her relationship with the child. When this happens, the court will need to hold a hearing to determine whether you can move with the child.
In other states, you may need to ask the court for permission to relocate through a formal petition process. Failing to go through this process if your state has travel restrictions may mean that you could be held in contempt of court. Penalties for being held in contempt after relocating without permission could include fines and even jail time.
You should try to resolve a relocation dispute with your former spouse outside the court if possible. Mediation by a neutral third party might help you reach a solution acceptable to both of you. This might involve adjusting the visitation rights of your spouse to compensate for your move.
Court Hearings on Relocation
Sometimes a court hearing is unavoidable because the spouses cannot reach an agreement. The standards in these hearings can differ significantly by state. The hearing might start with a presumption that the relocation is permitted unless the non-moving parent can prove that the move would harm the best interests of the child. In other states, virtually the opposite is true. The hearing starts with a presumption that the relocation is not permitted, which the moving parent must overcome by showing that the move will serve the best interests of the child.
In all states, however, courts will evaluate the best interests of the child in deciding whether a parent living with the child can relocate. Some commonly considered factors include the intent of each parent in planning or resisting the move, any prior agreements about relocation between them, and the child’s relationship with other family members in the area where he or she currently lives. For example, the court will want to make sure that the moving parent is not planning to relocate simply to undermine the child’s relationship with the other parent.
If the child is old enough, the court will consider the child’s own preference regarding the move, but this factor alone will not decide the dispute. The court will make its own determination on how the relocation will affect the child’s development and quality of life as well as the child’s relationships with each parent. If the other parent also can relocate, the court might be more likely to permit a move. The same is true if forbidding the move would harm the moving parent’s financial situation. Sometimes people relocate because of their jobs. If a parent who lives with a child loses his or her job because a court forbids relocation, the parent would be less able to provide the support that the child needs. But every situation is different, so the outcome of a court’s decision is very difficult to foresee.