Family Law

The Custodial Parent Wants to Relocate

By Kristina Otterstrom, Attorney
What to do when you or your ex-spouse wants to move with the kids.

Relocation cases are some of the most challenging types of family law disputes. It can be especially difficult when one parent opposes the move, and children feel caught in the middle. Each state has enacted parental relocation laws to minimize the potential hardship on parents and children. Generally, the parent who wants to move with the kids must give adequate notice and get a judge's permission to take the children. Relocation cases are complicated though, so you'll definitely want to speak with a local attorney for specific advice.

A Relocating Parent Must Give Notice

While relocation rules vary from state to state, every state requires the moving parent to provide written notice to the other parent. The notice must list the date and location of the intended move. Certain states, like Utah, require at least 60 days advance notice. Some divorce orders place additional limitations on relocation notices, so review your divorce judgement carefully. Once notified of an impending relocation, the noncustodial parent will have a certain amount of time to file an objection with the court.

Can Parents Agree on a Relocation and Avoid Court?

When a noncustodial parent objects to a relocation, a judge will hold an evidentiary hearing on the issue. But what if you don’t object to the other parent’s proposed move? Can you reach an agreement without a court hearing? The short answer is “yes.” Courts look favorably on parents that reach their own custody agreements. But even if you're able to resolve these issues with your ex, you should hire an attorney to review the written agreement and make sure your rights are fully protected.

If the parents agree to a long-distance move, they can confirm their agreement in a stipulation, and submit it to the court for approval. The relocation agreement should spell out visitation dates and transportation expenses. If the judge accepts it, the agreement will become a court order.

Sometimes, parents just can't agree. Those cases will require a court hearing, where a judge will make the final decision. Although courts can’t prevent parents from moving, a judge can order a transfer of custody or prohibit a parent from taking the children out of state.

How Will a Court Decide a Relocation Case?

A custodial parent’s request to relocate will be decided on a case-by-case basis, but geography will always play an important role. Certain states require notice if a custodial parent wants to relocate beyond a certain distance, usually more than 60 miles. For example, Utah doesn’t require notice unless a parent is moving 150 miles or more from the other parent’s residence. Other states prohibit moves across state lines without notice to the non-custodial parent, and some states enforce a combination of both limits. For example, you may be able to move 100 miles if you remain in the same state, but not 15 miles if you cross state lines. Many states have no geographical limitations at all and require notice of any potential move.

Geography aside, the relocating parent must show a “good faith basis” for the move, and the relocation must serve a child’s best interests. If you hire an attorney, it’s important to discuss all the reasons for your move. A judge may consider the following factors in deciding whether a relocation is warranted:

  • the custodial parent's career opportunity and earning potential
  • any family ties and extended family members in the new location
  • increased educational opportunities for the children or custodial parent
  • quality of life in the new location, and
  • any other factor affecting the children’s best interests.

Most importantly, a judge will want to ensure that the custodial parent isn’t relocating to prevent the other parent from seeing the children. That’s why the relocating parent must show how the move will benefit the children and contribute to their overall well-being.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • How do I object to the other parent’s relocation?
  • How can I ensure that I’ll still see my kids if their custodial parent relocates?
  • How do I prepare for a relocation hearing?
  • Can I relocate with my kids to start a new career?

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