New job opportunity in a different state? Want to be closer to family and friends? Whatever your reasons for wanting to relocate, when you are a divorced parent with a minor child, relocating your residence requires careful thought, planning, and an understanding of the law. There are no clear-cut answers, but there are some steps a parent should take before relocating with a child.
- Review your parenting agreement and/or custody order. Frequently, these documents include a schedule for the child that the parents are expected to follow. Unless the relevant documents are amended to reflect a revised schedule consistent with a parent’s relocation, any deviation from the agreement or court order may be viewed as a violation of the parents’ agreement or even as contempt of court. Many agreements also require that a relocating parent provide notice to the other parent well in advance of any move.
- Make a plan and begin to implement it. There are many decisions that can and should be made prior to a move. Ideally, the relocating parent has suitable employment in advance of the move. He or she should research school options for the child, neighborhoods, childcare, transportation, and housing options. The child may face unique emotional, psychological, or developmental issues that necessitate professional assistance related to the transition to a new area. The more details a relocating parent can address in advance of relocation, the smoother the transition will be.
- Set a strategy for communicating with the other parent. Given the impact any move has on a child, and or legal, practical, and common sense reasons, parents should talk with one another prior to relocation. How a parent addresses his or her relocation with the other parent will depend heavily on his or her particular facts and circumstances. More often than not, relocation is an unpopular decision with the parent who remains. A relocating parent should carefully consider when and how he or she will communicate with the other parent and what will be communicated. Communication may be directly with the other parent or through counsel.
- Understand your agreement or custody order may change. When one parent moves from one location to another, the access schedule for the parties’ child will change and the amount of child support paid between the parties may also change. What will be the cost of any transportation for the child to travel from one parent to the other? Will the non-custodial parent have a disproportionate amount of holidays and summer vacations to spend with the child? Is the custodial parent willing to give up those periods in a child’s life? These are questions that both the relocating parent and remaining parent will need to consider.
- Take next steps. Relocation is difficult even in the best of circumstances, and you may end up in court if one parent chooses to contest relocation or if the parents cannot agree on how to redefine the custody and access arrangement relating to their child. An experienced family law attorney can interpret any agreement or court order, assist in the planning process, and facilitate communication with the other parent. In many circumstances, the right attorney can make the process easier and smoother for all involved. If litigation becomes necessary, the earlier the attorney has been involved in the process, the stronger a parent’s case will be.