September 6, 2019

When a Divorced Parent Wants to Move

It is not uncommon for a divorced parent who lives with a child to want to move.  However, if the move would have a significant impact on an existing court ordered parenting plan, the parent cannot change the child’s residence without court approval unless the other parent agrees.

The relocating parent may make a motion before the move asking for court approval.  Either before or after the move the other parent may file a motion to change custody.  The other parent may also ask the court to hold the parent who moved without approval in contempt.

Whoever files first, relocation cases are challenging for both parents.  The stakes can be high – emotionally and financially.   Issues that caused the divorce frequently resurface – “You’re still trying to control me” or “You’re not taking my child away from me again”.  Aside from the expense, a new court proceeding may provide an opportunity for acting out feelings of anger or jealousy following the divorce.

For both parents, knowing what motion to file and when to file it and developing a strong case based upon the law rather than emotions is often difficult because the applicable law isn’t simple.  For example, what constitutes “significant impact on an existing parenting plan” isn’t specifically defined.  While a 20 mile move may be significant for one family, for another 100 miles is not.

The burden is on the relocating parent to convince a judge that the planned move is reasonable to accomplish a legitimate purpose and is in the best interests of the child.  Like significant impact, “best interests” is heavily dependent upon the facts of each particular family and determined on a case by case basis.  Even the Appellate Court has acknowledged determining best interests in relocation cases is a daunting task for which sometimes there is no ideal solution. 

Relocation situations are both legally and factually complex.  An experienced lawyer can help assess whether the impact of the proposed relocation is significant, evaluate the strength of the moving parent’s best interests of the child argument and the other parent’s legally based objection, and effectively advocate for the client in court. 

This article originally appeared in the September 5, 2019 edition of The Cheshire Citizen.

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