Divorce and custody cases can seem like very long, drawn-out affairs. It can take months to get everything settled and finalized. But what takes even longer than getting a visitation or custody agreement in place to begin with is raising a child. Chances are that after all of the legal maneuvering and paperwork is finished, you’ll still have years left before your child becomes an adult. And during those years, circumstances may change from what they were when the original custody and visitation settlement was arranged. For example, you may find yourself wanting or needing to move from where you were when the original agreement was made. What does that mean for your visitation or custody order? Take a look at what you need to know about how moving affects visitation and custody.
What Does the Original Order Say?
In some cases, parental relocation is addressed in the final version of the parenting plan ordered by the court. If you don’t remember or you’re not sure whether this situation is addressed in yours, it’s worth taking a look at the order. Depending on the situation, it may say what steps are to be taken in the event that either parent is relocating.
It’s also worth considering how the move that you’re considering making will affect the order already in place. If you’re not moving very far, there may be no need to change anything at all. Even moving out of state isn’t necessarily a cause for disruption if, for example, you and your ex both happen to live close to the state line, and your move will just take you to the other side of the line, close to your original location. Or, if you already have an agreement in place that grants you custody or visitation during summer vacations from school and extended holidays, while your child lives with your ex for the bulk of the school year, you may not need to change anything other than transportation, even if you’re moving very far away. On the other hand, if you currently have visitation every other weekend and you’re moving to the other side of the country, something will obviously need to change.
Why Are You Moving?
It’s a free country, and you can move if you want to for any reason you like. But as for how your move will affect your custody or visitation rights and what you’ll have to do if you want to keep custody or continue seeing your children on a regular basis, the reasons for your move matter.
Some moves are necessary or beneficial enough to outweigh other concerns. If you’re the sole wage earner in your own household and you’re offered a better job with more stability in another state, it’s reasonable to take it and a court might see your request to modify the custody and visitation order as reasonable as well. However, picking up and moving for no discernible reason, or for a reason that seems frivolous – for example, if you suddenly decided to move to Hollywood to be an actor despite having no acting experience or contacts in the industry – is likely to be viewed more skeptically. Even worse, if the court has reason to believe that you’re only interested in moving so that you can separate your child from their other parent, the court will likely look askance at your request. Take a moment to evaluate your own reasons for wanting to make a major move before you’re asked to explain those reasons in court. Make sure that you’re doing it for the right reasons.
Consider Your Child’s Needs
Even when you have good reasons for wanting to move, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the move will be in your child’s best interests. For family court, the best interest of the child involved is their priority, and it should be your priority as a parent as well.
Depending on your child’s age and other factors, it may not be in their best interest to move with you, even if you have primary custody. For example, if your child is a senior in high school who is doing well in their classes, has friends and a social support network in town, and has another parent in the local area who can provide them with a safe and stable home while they finish out their senior year, a court might see that as better than allowing you to take that child to a new location where they have no support network and where their academic career is likely to be interrupted at a critical point.
Prepare for Court
If you’re moving far away, what you’ll need to do is file a motion to modify the existing custody or visitation agreement in family court. You’ll also need to give the court and your ex notification of your upcoming move. The amount of notice you need to give is most likely specified in either your state’s laws or in your original custody order.
You don’t necessarily need to hire an attorney to ask the court to modify the custody or visitation order or to allow you to move with your child. In some cases, you may be able to come to a new arrangement with your ex that’s mutually agreeable, and simply submit that agreement for the judge to sign off on. In other cases, particularly if you face resistance from the other parent, you might have to convince the court of why you should be allowed to move with your child or why your proposed changes to the custody order to facilitate your move should be granted. Family courts generally prefer for children to be able to maintain an ongoing relationship with both parents, so if you can show the court that you’re willing to do the work to ensure this happens, they’re likely to be more amenable to your request.
A legal resource group like National Family Solutions can help you prepare for court and get ready to argue your case. They’ll help you fill out the proper forms to file a motion in court and prepare your evidence for why the court should grant your request.