One of the most common questions I am faced with in both my litigation cases and my private Guardian ad Litem work is, “When is it okay for me to relocate and not endanger my custody arrangements or rights?”
Relocation cases can be, and arguably should be, tricky. They can be tricky simply because the law leaves for a great deal of interpretation and subjective judgment calls on the part of attorneys, guardians ad litem and, ultimately, judges when deciding whether relocation will be in the best interests of the minor children involved. They should be tricky because what is being considered will most certainly have a direct impact on the ability of at least one parent to build and/or maintain a meaningful relationship with their child(ren).
Most parents who are considering relocation are merely acting on their constitutional right of a United States citizen to travel from state to state freely and to take up residence in the state of one’s choice. It is important, however, for all the parties and authorities involved in these cases to carefully weigh the custodial parent’s constitutional right to move about the nation freely with the non-custodial parent’s constitutional right to the care and control of their child.
When a client is considering a possible relocation, the more notice they can give the other parent, the better, in most situations. Plenty of notice allows for the parents to discuss and negotiate how the move will affect each relationship with the child and to possibly develop a plan together without the need for lengthy litigation. However, if the parents cannot come to an agreement on how to implement a suitable plan or even if the relocation should take place at all, there may be no choice but to involve the family court in order to determine a new custody plan.
Some questions to consider prior to starting a relocation case:
- What are your or the other parent’s possible motives for relocation?
- Will the relocation bring the child closer to extended family or further away?
- If the children have been told of the move, what was their reaction (take age into consideration)?
- What are the financial benefits and/or disadvantages of the move?
- If you are the parent moving, are you prepared and able to pay for all transportation costs for your child to see the other parent regularly?
- Are you allowing for the same amount of notice you would expect if the tables were turned?
- How much time does your child spend with the other parent now? How much will time will be taken away by the move?
- Are you prepared to offer the other parent longer vacations or longer summer visitation to make up for lost weekly visits?
- What extracurricular activities does the other parent participate in with the child that will be lost due to the move?
- Does your child drive?
- What connections to the current community does the child have? Significant other? Community Organizations? Church? Are there similar connections in the new community?
- Are you capable of affording, setting up and maintaining virtual or internet-based opportunities for visitation?
This is by no means an exhaustive list of what goes into a relocation examination by a Guardian ad Litem or a family court judge. It is merely a jumping-off point to illustrate the complexities surrounding such an action once filed by either party. Relocation clients should not expect to have their case resolved quickly or cheaply and should anticipate the costs of a Guardian ad Litem and Mediator into their case budget from the outset in order to avoid the “surprise” of the costs for these necessary services.