One of the most common questions I am faced with in both our 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?”
Why are Relocation Cases Different than 'Regular' Custody Cases?
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). It may also be the difference in a child having a fulfilling childhood with opportunities to reach their full potential and living in a less-than-fulfilling situation with limited resources or opportunities. Every case is different and unique and must be examined closely.
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 participants 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. In almost every relocation case, these two rights are at complete odds with each other and the child, unfortunately, is caught in the middle. There are no easy answers or quick fixes.
I'm Ready to Move. When Do I Have to Tell the Other Parent?
When considering a possible relocation, the more notice you can give the other parent, the better, in most situations. Plenty of notice allows for discussion and negotiation on 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 you are unable to 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.
What Will the Court Be Looking For to Determine If My Child Can Move With Me?
Relocation cases are some of the most difficult cases family court judges will hear and they will put in a lot of time and effort to try to review all of the facts and evidence presented to them throughout a case before making a determination. They will appoint a Guardian ad Litem to do the majority of the investigation and they will expect that Guardian (GAL) to present a very detailed report to the Court. In order to create that report, the GAL will likely visit both proposed homes (the local one and the new proposed city/state/country of residence chosen by the moving parent, and will conduct interviews with the child, the family of the child, and oftentimes, many third parties such as teachers, counselors, friends, doctors, etc. to get a full picture of the child's life currently and also what the child's life may look like in the new location. Some of the questions a judge will be looking to answer are:
- 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 (taking 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? Can/Will your child fly or take other modes of transportation unaccompanied by an adult?
- 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 a case once filed by either party. Relocation clients should not expect to have their case resolved quickly or cheaply. Attorneys typically charge several thousand dollars as a retainer to take on these cases since they often are some of the most contested cases in family court. Anyone starting such a case should also anticipate the costs of a Guardian ad Litem and Mediator into their case budget in order to avoid the “surprise” of the costs for these necessary services.
The Stevens Firm, P.A. - Family Law Center has provided exceptional legal counsel and support to families throughout South Carolina for over two decades, handling all matters of family law, such as child custody, child support, relocation cases (both domestic and abroad) and divorce. We are well-equipped to handle all divorce and family law matters, no matter your circumstances. Contact us at (864) 598-9172 to schedule an initial consultation or by clicking here.