A reader asks:
"I am the custodial parent of three young children, and I have received a job offer that would require me to move out of state. Even though this would mean moving my kids away from their father, who is still involved in their lives, I feel that my decision to move out of state is in their best interests. For one thing, it would be a significant pay increase, and it would also allow me to enroll my children in better schools. I want to know, though, when it comes to custody relocation, can their father prevent me from moving out of state. Do I need his consent?"
When it comes to child custody, relocation is hot-button issue. These types of questions are asked frequently by custodial parents who want to relocate with their children in order to pursue a job change, be closer to family members, or even just get a fresh start. However, the decision to move out of state should not be taken lightly.
First, take the time to carefully reread your divorce decree, child custody ruling, and/or parenting plan to see if the issue of relocation is specifically addressed. If, for example, your documentation states that if either parent wishes to relocate, he or she must give 60 days notice, make sure that you comply. Failure to abide by existing court rulings is likely to have a negative impact on your current request.
Second, you must consider the child custody laws in your state. Each state has slightly different relocation laws, and some states do require written consent from the non-custodial parent. Therefore, you'll want to know of any particular statutes in your state that could affect your decision. Seeking the counsel of a qualified family law attorney will also help you understand the implications of a custodial parent's decision to move out of state.
Third, if your ex does contest your request for custody relocation, you should also be prepared to face a full custody evaluation. In particular, be prepared to show:
- Whether the move would result in a better quality of life your children
- The extent to which your ex currently exercises his right to spend time with the children
- That you are willing to allow for longer, less frequent visits if your request to move out of state is approved
- That you will actively support such changes in the visitation schedule
- That you are prepared to absorb the increased cost of transportation
- And that your move is not an attempt to restrict your ex's access to your children
Finally, consider carefully the impact this move out of state will have on your children. It is entirely possible that the benefits of increased pay, or closer proximity to extended family members, do not outweigh the benefits your children enjoy right now as a result of a consistent, ongoing, in-person relationship with their father. It is impossible to reduce that relationship to increased phone calls and longer summertime visits without consequences, which are sure to appear in your children's behavior and attitudes over time. Therefore, it is important to talk openly with your children, and with your ex, about any decision to move out of state, to make sure that no part of the move is executed in haste.
Stahl, Philip Michael. Complex Issues in Child Custody Evaluations. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1999.
"What happens if the parent who has custody wants to move to another state?" American Bar Association. 1 Nov. 2008 <http://www.abanet.org/publiced/practical/ childadjust_parentmove.html>.