Out-of-State Moves with the Child

The right of a parent to move out of state with the child is another area of law on which states are divided. In times past, most states automatically would allow the custodial parent to move wherever he or she wanted with the child.
In recent years, some states have placed restrictions on the right of the custodial parent to move with the child. These states have a strong policy in favor of preserving continuity in the relationship between the child and noncustodial parent, and courts in these states are reluctant to allow the custodial parent to move with the child over the objection of the noncustodial parent unless there is a very good reason for the move.
In these states, the law may say a child cannot be moved without permission of the other parent or permission of the court. A parent who seeks to move with the child may be required to give notice (such as sixty days) before a proposed moving date.
The law in this area is shifting. Several state legislatures are considering new standards for determining when a parent can move out of state with the child. Regardless of the law in a particular state, there are several factors that courts consider when deciding whether to allow a move with the child
  • Custodial parent's reason for the move. If the parent who seeks to move with the child has a good faith reason for the move, that is a positive factor in favor of the move. Good faith reasons include: obtaining a better job, joining a new spouse, and moving to be near extended family. If a job change is the basis for the move, the plan for a new job should be specific, not just a general hope of finding new employment. The main bad faith reason for moving is to deprive the noncustodial parent of contact with the child. If the court believes the main reason for the move is to diminish contact between the child and the noncustodial parent, the court is not likely to allow the move.
  • Noncustodial parent's reason for opposing the move. If the noncustodial parent has a good reason for opposing the move, that is a factor in favor of denying permission for the move. The main good reason for opposing relocation is the child's close relationship with the noncustodial parent and the disruption of frequent contact between the child and noncustodial parent that would result from the move. If the noncustodial parent is not close to the child or has not regularly exercised visitation, the court is more likely to allow the move.
  • Advantages to the child from the move. If it can be shown the child will benefit from the move, that, of course, is a factor in favor of the move. If, for example, the child will go to a better school or be in a climate that is better for the child's health, those factors will support the request for move. The parent asserting that the child will benefit from relocation should be ready with specific evidence, such as witnesses knowledgeable about the difference in school systems or medical testimony regarding the child's health.
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  • The degree to which visitation can be restructured to preserve the relationship between the child and the noncustodial parent. If the court believes that reasonable restructuring of visitation can preserve and promote a good relationship between the child and the noncustodial parent, that is a factor in favor of allowing the move. Restructuring of visitation usually involves scheduling more visitation in the summer and over other holiday breaks. In some cases, the noncustodial parent and child may actually spend more time together each year under the restructured schedule than under the original schedule, although the restructured schedule will have less frequent periods of visitation. If the court believes that frequency of contact is more important than large blocks of time, then the move is less likely. If the parents cannot afford visits over a long distance, the court also is less likely to allow relocation. If visitation is affordable, the court might reduce child support to facilitate visits, or the court might assess the cost of travel on the parent who seeks to move.
If the parents have joint physical custody with the child spending a substantial amount of time with both parents, a court may treat the request to move like an original custody determination. The court will try to decide which parent will best meet the child's needs. The court will consider the above factors, along with other factors usually considered in custody cases, including the child's attachment to the current home, school, and community.