Planning a Relocation with Your Children? Read This First.
It is not uncommon for couples to relocate to different geographic areas after they separate or divorce. Remaining in the same area can dredge up painful memories and comes with the risk of inadvertently running into a former spouse, so it is understandable why many individuals choose to start fresh somewhere else. Relocation is more complicated when there are children involved and the parents are subject to a child custody agreement or order. A Stockton family lawyer explains why below.
The Basics of Custody
There are different kinds of custody. Physical custody is actual control over the child’s person and location. Legal custody refers to the right of a parent to make long-term decisions about the child’s health, safety, education, and general welfare. It is common for both parents to share legal custody of a child, while physical custody can be either joint or sole. The parent who does not have sole physical custody (the “noncustodial” parent) may obtain visitation.
Relocating Can Affect Custody
A family law court cannot prevent a parent from relocating if they desire to do so. However, should the parent choose to move, the court has the power to modify the child’s custody arrangements to better serve the child’s interests. Generally, a parent who has sole physical custody of the child may relocate with the child unless the noncustodial parent can show that the move would harm the child. If the parents have joint physical custody of the child and one parent does not want the other to relocate, the parent who wants to move must demonstrate to the court that the move is in the best interest of the child. The parent who wishes to move must provide written notice of any plan to move with the child for more than 30 days, and the notice must be sent at least 45 days before the date of the proposed move.
Factors Courts Consider in Relocation Hearings
When considering whether relocation would be harmful to the child or in the child’s best interest, courts rely on a set of factors known as the LaMusga factors:
- The child’s interest in stability and continuity in the custodial arrangement
- The distance of the move
- The age of the child
- The child’s relationship with both parents
- The relationship between the parents including, but not limited to, their ability to communicate and cooperate effectiveness and their willingness to put the interests of the child above their individual interests
- The wishes of the children
- The reason for the proposed move
- The extent to which the parents share custody
No single LaMusga factor is dispositive, and courts look to the totality of the circumstances when deciding whether relocation is in the best interest of the child. As such, these determinations are highly fact-specific and will vary significantly from couple to couple.
Contact a Stockton Family Lawyer for Further Information
If you are considering relocating with your child, you should consider speaking to an attorney to determine what the best course of action should be. To get started, please contact a Stockton family lawyer at McKinley, Conger, Jolley & Galarneau by using our online form or calling us at 209-477-8171.