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Interstate Co-Parenting: How Child Custody Works Across State Lines

Separating from a partner and moving out of state is hard enough when you’re only responsible for yourself. When you also need to care for your children, it’s even more difficult. Taking care of your children when you’re planning on making a long-distance move? That’s the most challenging situation of all.

While it’s complicated, this kind of move isn’t impossible. You and your kids can move anywhere in the country or abroad as long as you structure the custody agreement correctly. Keep reading to learn how moving with a visitation order works in California, what you need to do to move if you share custody, and how to change your order if it’s preventing you from moving.

Understanding California’s Child Custody Laws

Why is moving such a problem for parents who share child custody? It’s because of how California law ties co-parents together. Parents who share custody split two sets of responsibilities:

  • Legal custody: The right to make decisions for a child, like where they go to school and receive medical care.
  • Physical custody: The location where the child lives.

Both sets of responsibilities can be split or given to one parent. Sole custody means that one parent has the full legal right to that set of responsibilities, while joint means that it’s shared.

When it comes to physical custody, it’s rare for parents to split it 50/50. It’s difficult to divide the amount of time a child spends with each parent precisely in half. That means that the person who has the children more often is usually considered the primary custodial parent, while the other “has visitation.” This can be a strict schedule set by the court, or it can be “reasonable visitation,” an open-ended order that allows co-parents to work out where the child lives independently.

In California, parents who share legal or physical custody of children must follow a few rules if they want to move. For example, they must follow their visitation schedule if the court has assigned one, regardless of their location. This means continuing to support visitation on the appropriate days and abiding by any legal decisions the parent with legal custody makes, such as going to a specific school, doctor, or church.

The moving parent must also provide written notice to their co-parent at least 45 days in advance about their plan to move. This allows the non-moving parent to request a modification to the visitation order if the move impacts their ability to follow the current orders. While other states have a rule permitting parents to move a certain distance without notifying their former partners, California has no such exception.

How to Move with a Visitation Order in California

If you want to move with your children in California, you need to prepare for a challenge from your co-parent. Some co-parents won’t care about your move, especially if it’s a short distance. Others will argue that the move impacts your ability to fulfill a visitation order no matter what. It’s worthwhile to understand and prepare for common challenges if your co-parent chooses to object to your move.

Courts can never bar a parent from moving. However, they can order changes to the visitation order based on the move. California judges follow the Best Interests of the Child Standard, meaning that they judge every custodial battle and disagreement based on what’s best for the kids in question. If the judge believes that moving isn’t in the child’s best interest, then they may change who has primary custody, when you get to see your kids, and for how long.

If you’re trying to move, your co-parent’s objections will probably hinge on this argument. They may argue that the move is bad for your kids because:

  • It limits one parent’s ability to have a relationship with them
  • It’s unnecessarily far and breaks the kids’ connection to their community
  • The move will hurt your children’s education or development
  • You don’t need to move, and you’re doing so to hurt your former partner, hurting your kids in the process

To prepare for these objections, make a plan for how you’ll accomplish things like maintaining your visitation order, supporting your kids’ education, and keeping their relationships with others strong. Most judges prefer to maintain as much freedom for parents as possible while still supporting the children. If you have a plan to keep your kids happy and healthy, you’re likely to get permission to maintain your current custody arrangement after the move, even if your partner objects.

Moving Out of State

Occasionally, you may need to move far enough that it’s simply not possible to maintain your current custody order. For example, if you move out of state, it’s probably not possible to have your child go to their other parent every weekend. In this case, the written notice you provide to your co-parent gives you time to develop a new custody order that fits your new circumstances. You can suggest a new schedule and negotiate with your co-parent to find one that works for both of you.

If you can’t agree on your own for a new custody arrangement, your co-parent can request a relocation hearing during which a judge will decide the new order. This is when you must be prepared for your partner’s objections.

Once you’ve developed a new visitation order, every state in the US except Massachusetts will respect it. The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act ensures that you can move almost anywhere in the country and trust that your arrangement is considered both legally binding.

Take Control of Where You Live

Whether or not you have primary custody of your kids, you can always move out of state. The question is whether you can take your children with you. With the right legal assistance and some preparation, you can put together a visitation order that lets you take your kids with you. Reach out to a qualified family law attorney to discuss your case and make a plan today. You have your kids’ best interests at heart; when you prove that your move is for their benefit, you can keep them with you wherever you need to move.