Child Custody Relocation Rules

What parents need to know about child custody relocation

Young girl in a moving box.
Keep up with the latest child custody relocation rules before you consider moving. Photo © JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images

Child custody relocation isn't uncommon following a divorce or separation. But there are rules parents should keep in mind before moving. Even when you're facing tough economic times and feel you literally  have no other choice, be sure to weigh the following considerations before you relocate with your kids:

Why Parents Consider Child Custody Relocation

For some parents, relocation represents the unthinkable.

But if you're dismayed because your ex is proposing a move, or you're weighing whether it's something you should suggest, bear in the mind that there are valid reasons why a move could be in your children's best interests, For example, relocation may be a viable option worth considering if:

  • The move would put you closer to extended family members
  • It would allow you to seek better job and/or housing opportunities
  • Regular visitation would still be possible

Best Interest of the Child Standard in Relocation Cases

Remember that the court's primary intention is always to support the best interests of the child. And quite often, when the custodial parent or primary caretaker and the non-custodial parent head to court over relocation-related disputes, the courts will rule in favor of not disrupting the children's lives any more than necessary. In fact, it's not uncommon for the court automatically assume that relocation is not in the best interest of the child.

 Therefore, the parent who plans to relocate with the child will have to prove the court wrong, while the parent who is not relocating will have to prove that relocation is not ideal for the child. In such cases, both parents should anticipate having a very difficult burden of proof in court. However, with appropriate planning and preparation, both sides have a fair chance of winning.

Court Considerations in Child Relocation Cases

The courts expect a relocating parent to notify a non-relocating parent about a move in as much time as reasonably possible—preferably, as soon as the relocating parent makes the decision to move. Courts do not look very favorably upon a relocating parent who was aware of a move and chose not to disclose it to a co-parent until the court hearing.

In addition, the courts will consider several factors when deciding whether to allow a parent to relocate with a child. Those factors include:

  • Age and Maturity of the Child - For older children, a judge might want to speak with the child to assess whether or not the child prefers to live with the relocating or the non-relocating parent.
  • Distance Between New Home and Old Home - A court will most likely approve a move that involves a smaller distance between the old and new home.
  • Will it Improve Quality of Life? - The court can consider whether the child will receive an equivalent education and leisure opportunity in a new location.

If a parent would like to relocate with their child, the relocating parent should have a plan in place prior to the court date. For example, in child relocation cases, the parent requesting the move will be expected to know of possible schools and activities for the child in the new location.

Additionally, the parent should consider frequent travel plans from their new home to a convenient location for the non-relocating parent. Lastly, a relocating parent might want to consider permitting extended vacation visits with the non-relocating parent, in order to continue and possibly deepen the bond between the child and the non-relocating parent.

Edited by Jennifer Wolf.