After a divorce is finalized, parents may decide to move because of a new job opportunity, to be closer to extended family for support, or because they cannot afford to live in the area. So what happens to the current custody order if relocation occurs?
In California, a custodial parent (i.e. the parent with primary physical custody) is allowed to move with a child if it doesn’t interfere with the child’s rights or best interests. If a parent plans to relocate with a child for over 30 days, he/she must provide a written notice at least 45 days prior to the proposed move in order to work with the other parent on a new agreement for custody or visitation. The parent who isn’t moving has an opportunity to file an objection and even request a modification if necessary.
In the event of an objection to relocation, the court will schedule a hearing where a judge will either approve or disapprove the move and/or decide if a change in custody or visitation. The noncustodial parent must demonstrate that the move would be harmful to the child’s best interests and that a custody change is necessary.
The following are the common factors a judge will consider when determining a change in custody:
- The distance of the proposed relocation
- The child’s relationship with both parents
- The child’s need for stability and consistency
- The parent’s ability to co-parent
- The custodial parent’s reasons for relocating
- Any potential harm from a custody change
- Any potential harm to the child’s relationship with the noncustodial parent
- How the move will meet the child’s physical, emotional, and educational needs
- If the child’s extended family members are in the community of the new location
- Any other factors dealing with the child’s best interests
The main goal is to come up with a custody and visitation arrangement that will be best for the child and enable them to have a continuing relationship with his/her parents, despite the distance. Relocation cases are often complex and challenging, especially if the noncustodial parent objects to the move. It is important to have an experienced family law attorney on your side to access the situation and develop an effective plan to obtain the outcome you desire.