Relocation and Children in Divorce

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Relocation and Children in DivorceAmong all of the parenting issues in divorce, one that always emerges is the question of relocation.

It’s hard enough living in two houses. The notion of living a significant distance from each other causes most parents worry and anxiety.
 

How Far Apart Can the Parents Live?

Most separation agreements involving children have a relocation section. It provides clarity concerning the distance required between the parents’ homes to maintain the established parenting plan.

Let’s say there is a 50:50 parenting plan in which the child(ren) spend two nights per week and every other weekend with each parent. That would be a difficult plan to maintain if the parents lived 30 or 40 miles from each other. A shorter distance between the parties is needed in this case, usually 10 or 15 miles from the school district. That distance allows for spontaneity, the family members remaining in a shared community of interest, and avoiding long car trips for the children.

Be As Specific As Possible About Locations

Sometimes parents assume that naming the county they live in will suffice. However, the distance between two points in a county may be 50 miles or more. Or one parent may live just over the county line from the other and be only minutes away. The location of the children’s schools is also important. Commuting time may also be a factor, even if the two residences are fairly close together.

Typical wording in the agreement: “In order to maintain their established parenting schedule, the parties agree that, until the last child to attend high school graduates, neither party shall relocate his/her residence more than XX miles from the school district in which the children’s schools are located.”

But what happens if one parent needs to relocate beyond the stated distance?

Relocation Without the Children

This option is relatively simple. An individual can move anywhere he/she wants. There is a relocation process within most agreements that addresses issues such as:

  1. The party who desires to move outside of the boundary would notify the other party in advance (often 90 days) of his/her intention to move. The parents would have that time to change the parenting plan as needed.
  2. Designation of the primary residence of the children, if it needs to change.
  3. Changes to the parenting plan as needed.
  4. Child support adjustments in light of the updated parenting plan.
  5. Transportation issues.
  6. Whether the established parenting schedule continues until these details are arranged. Parents like to keep the new schedule as close to the original as possible to sustain equivalent time with the children under the new arrangements.

Relocation With the Children

Relocating with the children is understandably more complicated regardless of which parent is requesting the move.

The new home of the moving parent may still be within a reasonable distance from the other parent. However, if that move requires a change in schools or even school districts, not only must the parenting plan be discussed but also the impact of the resulting changes on quality of the child(ren)’s education and their participation in sports and other school activities.

If the relocation is far enough away to make previously agreed-upon parenting arrangements impractical, much more discussion is needed. Both parents almost always want to be involved as much as possible with their children. A move increasing the distance to even 50 miles away changes the way a parent interacts with his/her children.

Parenting Plan Adjustments

The same issues as 1-6 above usually apply in this case as well as many others, such as school breaks, holidays, long weekends and summer vacations. Child support may be adjusted depending upon living circumstances and even consider new expenses required to see the children. Daily FaceTime or Skype calls are often built into the agreement. Technology is a wonderful means for supporting a long-distance parenting relationship.

When the Not-Moving Parent Doesn’t Agree with the Move

When one parent doesn’t support the other parent’s move, mediation is often very successful. If there are still issues, parents may resort to escalation using attorneys and potentially the court system.

Generally, it’s pretty difficult for one party to prevail in a relocation request when both parents have a pattern of being actively involved in parenting and school activities.

Issues like job opportunities or advancement, family support, or a new spouse who lives elsewhere or needs to relocate for a job often are not enough to have a court support the move. Parenting rights are pretty sacred.

On the other hand, if the not-moving spouse is uninvolved and/or not financially or emotionally reliable or has other challenging issues, then relocation may be granted to the moving parent by the court. The guidelines used to make custody decisions are referred to as “Best Interest of the Child” (BOC) standards.
Some of the issues the courts will consider under BOC are:

  • Which parent has been the main caregiver/nurturer of the child.
  • The parenting skills of each parent, their strengths and weaknesses, and their ability to provide for the child’s special needs, if any.
  • The mental and physical health of the parents.
  • Whether there has been domestic violence in the family.
  • Work schedules and child care plans of each parent.
  • The child’s relationships with brothers, sisters, and members of the rest of the family.
  • What the child wants, depending on the age of the child.
  • Each parent’s ability to cooperate with the other parent and to encourage the children’s relationship with the other parent.

Summary

Most parents recognize that living near each other until the children complete high school and being active co-parents is in the best interest of their children and outweighs the goals of work or a new relationship.

As a mediator, I have helped many parents resolve the issue of relocation and avoid escalating to the courts, which is an expensive, time-consuming and often contentious circumstance. I have successfully worked with parents who live as far away as Hawaii, Florida, and California.

Resources

NYS “Best Interests of the Child” Factors
Can a Custodial Parent Move a Child Out-of-State?
Index of BJ Mann Blog Topics


Photo credit: (c) Can Stock Photo / Bialasiewicz

This blog and its materials have been prepared by BJ Mediation Services for informational purposes only and are not intended to be, are not, and should not be regarded as, legal or financial advice. Internet subscribers and online readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.

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