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Relocating with Children After Divorce

Divorce marks a significant change in the lives of all family members involved, particularly for children. When one parent decides to relocate after a divorce, it introduces a new layer of complexity and emotional adjustment. The decision to move can stem from various reasons, including job opportunities, being closer to extended family, or simply seeking a fresh start. 

However, relocating with children after divorce involves careful legal and emotional considerations. This article explores the intricate landscape of moving with children post-divorce, highlighting legal frameworks, steps to navigate the process smoothly, and strategies to support the well-being of your children during the transition.

Understanding Custody Agreements

In California, when parents share custody and one parent wishes to move with the children, the process is governed by specific legal requirements aimed at protecting the best interests of the child while also respecting the rights of both parents. 

First, the parent planning to move must give written notice of the move to the other parent. This notice is typically required to be given well in advance of the proposed move, usually at least 45 days before the move. This allows the non-moving parent sufficient time to object to the move if they wish to do so.

If both parents agree to the relocation and the terms surrounding the move (such as adjustments to visitation schedules), they can modify their custody agreement accordingly. This new agreement should be put in writing and, ideally, approved by a court to make it legally binding and enforceable.

If the non-moving parent objects to the relocation, the parent wishing to move with the children must seek permission from the court. The court will then determine whether the relocation is in the best interest of the child.

Legal Factors Courts Consider

Before making any relocation plans, it’s crucial to review the custody agreement. Custody arrangements come in different forms, such as joint physical custody, sole custody with visitation rights, or joint legal custody. The specifics of your custody agreement play a pivotal role in determining the legal steps required for relocation.

Alongside your custody order, courts consider several factors when deciding on relocation cases, aiming to prioritize the child’s best interests. These factors can include:

  • The impact on the child’s relationship with both parents: Courts evaluate how the move would affect the children’s relationship with the non-relocating parent.
  • The reasons for the relocation: The court examines the motivations behind the move, preferring reasons that benefit the child’s well-being, such as better educational opportunities.
  • The child’s needs: Courts consider the child’s age, health, and educational needs, assessing whether the relocation aligns with those needs.
  • Community and family ties: The potential for the child to maintain or establish meaningful connections in the new location is also a factor.

The court’s primary consideration is always the best interest of the child. Suppose the court finds that the move would significantly disrupt the child’s stable environment and relationship with the non-moving parent, and that such disruption would outweigh the benefits of the move. In that case, it may deny the request to relocate. Conversely, if the court determines the move would be beneficial for the child’s well-being and development, it may allow the relocation to proceed.

Steps to Take When Relocating

When parents share joint custody, and one parent considers moving away with children, it’s a process that requires careful handling to respect the rights of both parents and, most importantly, to safeguard the child’s well-being. Here are the steps parents should take before making such a move:

1. Review Your Custody Agreement and State Laws

Begin by thoroughly reviewing your custody agreement and understanding the legal requirements regarding relocation in California. This step may necessitate consulting with a family law attorney who can provide guidance tailored to your situation.

2. Communicate with the Other Parent

Early and open communication with the other parent is crucial. Attempt to discuss the reasons for the move and how it will benefit the child, and propose a new visitation schedule that maintains the child’s relationship with both parents.

3. Seek Legal Advice

Consulting with a family law attorney can help you navigate the legal process, from drafting the required notice to petitioning the court if necessary. An attorney can also assist in negotiating an agreement with the other parent.

4. Attempt to Reach an Agreement

The parents should try to discuss and mutually agree on the terms of the move and any necessary modifications to the custody and visitation arrangements. If direct negotiation is challenging, mediation can be a helpful step. A mediator can assist in reaching a compromise that respects both parents’ rights and focuses on the child’s best interests.

5. Prepare for Court

If the other parent opposes the move, be prepared to present your case in court. Gather evidence that supports how the relocation is in the child’s best interest, including details about the new community, schools, and any family support available at the new location.

6. Support Your Children Through the Transition

Regardless of the legal outcome, it’s important to support your children emotionally through the process. Be open to their feelings, reassure them of your love and support, and involve them in the moving process as appropriate for their age.

Protect Your Family’s Future With Kaspar & Lugay, LLP

Relocating with children after divorce is a multifaceted decision that requires careful consideration of legal, emotional, and practical factors. By understanding the legal requirements, communicating effectively with all parties involved, and focusing on the best interests of your children, you can navigate this challenging process successfully. 

When child custody orders and the needs of your family conflict, the experienced family law attorneys at Kaspar & Lugay, LLP, can help. Our experienced child custody lawyers are available to help you navigate drafting a new custody order or petitioning the court for permission to move with your child. We encourage you to schedule your consultation with our Marin County family law firm to learn more about how we can assist you with the move-away order you need.