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Moving? Child Custody Considerations for Relocating Parents

As the school year begins to wind down for most schools in this and upcoming months, this is a time when some families start to plan for possible out-of-state relocation so that they can get it done in between school terms. The planning of a move in and of itself is tough enough, but for divorced parents with sole or joint custody of their children, the issue of relocation may have an added legal dimension that they might have good reason to be concerned about. So, for custodial or noncustodial parents wondering what their rights with regard to relocating might be, here's a brief summary.

The laws regarding a parent's right to move out of state with their child do, unfortunately, vary from state to state, and to make matters more complicated, the laws in these areas are constantly shifting and evolving. Many states used to generally allow custodial parents to move wherever he or she wants with their own child(ren), but some states have placed varying degrees of limitations on this freedom. Indeed, some states tend to discourage such moves if the noncustodial parent objects, and may restrict the right of the custodial parent to move with a child via laws saying that a child cannot be moved without permission of the other parent, or without permission of the court. It is also not unusual to require a custodial parent to provide the noncustodial parent with adequate notice of their intent to relocate.

Despite variances in laws, however, there are several factors that courts generally consider when deciding whether to allow a move with the child. These factors include: 1) the custodial parent's motivation for relocating (i.e. it better not be to deprive the noncustodial parent of contact with the child); 2) the potential for, and degree of, detriment to the noncustodial parent's relationship with the child; and 3) of course, the all-important consideration of the benefit to the child from relocation.

It should be noted that for parents with joint custody of their children with time shared equally between them (or nearly so), then a request to move with a child or children may be treated as a custody determination in the first place.

Lastly, in the event of a child custody dispute where a parent lives out of state, every state has enacted the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act, which sets standards for when a court may make a custody determination and when a court must defer to an existing determination from another state. The links may come in handy for more child custody information, and also included are links to the specific laws for each of the 50 states plus D.C.