If you are a custodial parent who wants to relocate with your child to another state, and if this relocation is not covered in the custodial agreement, then a dispute may arise. This is natural because the non-relocating parent will be forced to have a long-distance relationship with the child and the relocation is likely to severely interfere with his/her parenting time.
If your relocation is covered by the custodial agreement or the court’s orders, then you probably have your ex-spouse’s express consent to relocate. But if the relocation is not covered by the custodial agreement or court order, then you should have legitimate reasons to present to the courts while asking for its permission to relocate.
Legitimate Reasons for Moving with Your Child to another State
In the decisive judgment of Dupre vs. Dupre (2004), the Rhode Island Supreme Court ruled that all that a parent had to do to relocate along with his/her child to another state was to prove that the relocation was in the best interests of the child – the parent did not have to provide a compelling reason because providing a compelling reason would place a burden on the parent’s ability to relocate for legitimate reasons.
Some legitimate reasons for relocation include:
- The proposed relocation will impart a financial benefit to the custodial parent or increase the economic or educational opportunities of his/her new spouse. Note that any improvement in the custodial parent’s finances positively impacts the child.
- The relocation will have a substantial positive impact on the custodial parent’s personal life. For example, the custodial parent may be relocating to remarry or be near his/her family. The courts will reconcile such personal benefits with the best interests of the child before ruling.
- The relocation is required to treat the health problems of the custodial parent or the child.
- The relocation is justified to protect the child from the risk of some anticipated significant harm.
- The relocation will substantially improve the quality of life of the child and the custodial parent.
How Do the Courts Decide on Relocation?
The courts always decide on custodial matters in the best interests of the child. If they feel that the relocation is not in the child’s best interests, they can refuse to grant permission or transfer custody to the other parent.
As the circumstances (finances, relationships, needs, and children’s ages) that govern each family are unique, one court judgment may not apply to all the cases, and so, it is not easy for the courts to decide on relocation matters. From our experience, here is what the courts consider before approving or rejecting the relocation petition:
- If the custodial parent wants to relocate to another state, the courts assess whether the child’s separation from his/her current environment (school, community, other parent) would be more harmful than separating the child from the custodial parent and transferring his/her custody to the other parent.
- If the child has a strong bond with the non-custodial parent, then the courts may take this factor into account and assess transferring the custody to the non-custodial parent if the custodial parent insists on relocation. The courts assess the non-custodial parent’s involvement in the child’s activities (school, medical, extracurricular) and whether his/her involvement has been regular to give their verdict.
- The courts also consider how far the custodial parent will relocate from the other parent and how this distance will impact the bond between the child and the non-custodial parent, as also the financial impact of the relocation on the non-relocating parent.
- Will the relocation impact the child negatively? Will it make the child feel depressed or distressed, and to what extent? Does the child have special needs or medical conditions that could flare up because of the relocation? By and large, the courts evaluate how the child will cope with and react to the relocation.
- Which parent does the child fall back on in times of need? The answer to this question reveals the child’s psychological makeup. It tells the courts which parent the child trusts more in times of need.
- Is the relocating parent moving to another state just because he/she wants to wreak revenge on the other parent or move for frivolous or malicious reasons? Can the age of the child and the length of separation from the non-relocating parent have an impact on the child’s psychological health when he/she moves to a new location? In general, the courts will try and figure out the negative impact of the relocation on the child before making a decision.
- Does the relocating parent have a physical home with adequate internal infrastructure and access to quality child care in the new location? The relocating must have a neat and clean home in place with adequate space for the child.
Notice Period and Other State Laws Related to Minor Child Relocation
Every state requires the relocating parent to give sufficient notice in writing to the non-relocating parent. The non-relocating parent can file an objection, which must be addressed legally. If the relocating parent takes off with the child without giving proper notice to the non-relocating parent, it can be legally considered child kidnapping.
Some states specify the maximum distance that the relocating parent can move without sending a written notice to the non-relocating parent. Also, the divorce decree/custodial agreement may contain stipulations about relocation, and it would be wise to take your child custody attorney’s opinion on it before taking any action.
States also require the relocating parent to propose a visitation plan, which includes the place and access times, for the non-relocating parent. The plan should contain details of access to the child during vacations, spring breaks, and other significant holidays – and about how the non-relocating/visiting parent’s traveling costs will be shared.
The relocating custodial parent also must request the court to modify the original custodial agreement by including the details of the relocation.