How A Long-Distance Move Can Affect Child Custody Arrangements

long distance child custody

Child custody arrangements can be difficult to make work under any circumstances, but when one parent decides to move – especially if the move is long-distance or out of state – it can be even more difficult.

Whether the relocation is the result of a job change, a new relationship, an educational opportunity, a desire to be closer to family, or just to make a new start, a long-distance move could have a significant effect on the custody agreement or order and might impact your ability to spend time with your child.

Steps to Take If You Want to Relocate

If you are thinking of relocating and you have an existing custody agreement or order in place, the first step is to review the current order or agreement to see if it discusses the possibility that one parent might relocate, and if so, what changes can be made to the custody arrangements, and what the relocating parent is required to do before relocating. 

In many cases, the order will require the relocating parent to give the other parent notice of the move a specified number of days before the move. You may also be required to obtain the other parent’s consent or to obtain a court order permitting the move if you don’t want to jeopardize your custody rights.

If the order does not address parent relocation, the next step would be to check the state’s laws – many states have laws requiring notice, consent, or court approval for a long-distance or out-of-state move, even if it is not specifically noted in the order.

Whether your existing custody order or state law has specific requirements that must be met by the relocating parent, it is wise to consider how your proposed move will affect the established child custody schedule, especially if both parents have significant legal and/or physical custody or visitation rights, and to develop a reasonable plan for visitation and frequent contact between the child and the other parent. This may include expanded or substantial visitation during summer, school breaks and holidays, a plan for substantial phone or other communication, and possibly an offer to pay all or most of the transportation costs for the child to visit the other parent.

If possible, you should obtain the other parent’s consent; many states even require the consent of both parents before a child can be removed from the state. If you do not have the consent of your child’s other parent, you may need to file a motion to obtain the court’s permission for your move if you plan to take your child with you, or the child’s other parent may object to your move and bring a motion before the court to prevent you from taking the child with you. 

To obtain a modification in some states, the non-custodial parent must convince the court that the move represents a change in circumstances that is detrimental to the child's welfare. In this case, a reasonable plan that includes frequent and consistent contact with the other parent can make it easier for the court to provide you with a move away order and to keep the current custody arrangement in place. 

Factors Considered by the Court

When considering a parent’s relocation request, the court often looks to factors very similar to those used in the initial custody decision; although each state has its own rules and some states are more stringent when reviewing relocation requests, while other states favor a parent’s right to move. In general, courts will consider the best interests of the child when considering a parent’s relocation request or a request to modify an existing custody order based on one parent’s relocation. 

Factors the courts consider when making a move-away determination or modifying a custody order as a result of a parent’s relocation include:

- The distance of the move
- The age of the child
- The parent's ability to communicate and cooperate
- Whether the move benefits the health, safety or welfare of the child
- Whether the parents have complied with previous custody and visitation orders and taken advantage of time with the child
- Whether the move has the potential to improve the quality of life for both the child and the relocating parent (this may include a better financial situation, better education, more contact with family or other factors)
- Whether the parenting schedule can be adjusted to preserve and foster the relationship between the child and each parent
- The likelihood that each parent will comply with the modified schedule if the move is allowed
- Whether domestic violence has been directed against or witnessed by the child

Laws about child custody and parental relocation vary widely from state to state. To learn more about child custody and relocation laws in your state, quickly and easily find a qualified family law attorney near you by posting your issue to our website and letting attorneys come to you.

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Posted - 12/28/2018