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Can I Move With My Child Before Divorce?

It's understandable that you might want to put some distance between you and your soon-to-be ex. And you might've heard that your options -- especially when moving out of state -- might be limited after a child custody agreement has been reached. But what about moving before the divorce is finalized? Or even before you file?

While state laws on child custody can vary, many require some form of written notice and/or consent before a parent can move away with a child, though the restrictions may depend on the distance or the reasons for the move. Here are a few things to consider.

Filing for Divorce

As an initial matter, most states require you to have some period of residency before you can file for divorce in that state. This residency requirement can range from six weeks to a full year, and some states may require you to have a fixed, permanent home address in the state, while others only require residency or legal presence in the state.

But just because a spouse can file for divorce in a different state does not mean that courts in that state will have jurisdiction over all divorce disputes like child custody, property division, or spousal support.

Fighting for Custody

The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act prohibits parents from filing for an initial custody determination outside their "home state," defined as the state where the child resided for the six months prior to the divorce, so long as one parent still resides in that state. A state other than the child's home state can make custody determinations only if the child has significant connections with people in the state or the child is in the state for safety reasons. So even if you leave the state before the divorce, you may still be bound to apply for custody in the state from which you moved, and if your spouse files for divorce in the child's home state, you may be required to return the child to that state for custody hearings.

And, of course, simply fleeing before the divorce and without some sort of consensual custody agreement may lead to kidnapping charges. Once that custody agreement has been reached, however, the UCCJEA mandates that all states honor custody determinations made by courts in other states. So simply hopping across state lines won't free you from custody or visitation obligations.

If you have more questions about interstate custody agreements specifically or child custody in general, contact an experienced child custody attorney.

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