Are You Considering Relocating After a Divorce But Mindful of the Custody Implications?
When divorcing parents move, custody becomes more complicated.
Divorce proceedings themselves can be complicated enough, but a divorce proceeding where one or both parents relocate can change the already-difficult dynamics of child custody disputes.
If one spouse moves across state lines, then complicated interstate divorce issues may arise (feel free to refer to our page on that subject).
However, even if one spouse moves to a different city within the same state, the upheaval as it relates to the children’s community and well-being can fundamentally change the trajectory of divorce proceedings.
Custodial relocation when a minor child is involved should always be preceded by written consent from the non-custodial parent or an order of the court presiding of the divorce proceeding that specifically authorizes the relocation. The one exception to this rule is when domestic violence necessitates a move.
This applies equally when one parent has sole legal custody of the child: the custodial parent will still need to petition the family law court for authority to move.
Depending on the complexity of your situation, these petitions will be similarly complicated or simple. In the meantime, attempting to relocate without the express permission of the court or the non-custodial parent can have significant repercussions.
The remedy afforded to the parent opposing the unpermitted relocation includes, but is not limited to, filing a motion to seek the return of the child. These motions are often accompanied by requests that the parent who unilterally relocated pay the legal fees of the parent who opposed the relocation.
What do Courts require for a Custodial Relocation Proposal?
New York family law courts will engage in a fact-specific inquiry when faced with relocation and custody disputes. Courts consider the best interests of the children when evaluating relocation proposals and the analysis, informed by significant legal precedent, takes into account the following:
- Each parent’s reasons for seeking or opposing relocation
- The quality of the relationship between the children and the custodial and non-custodial parents
- The impact of the move on the quantity and quality of the children’s future contact with the non-custodial parent
- The degree to which the custodial parent’s and child’s life may be enhanced economically, emotionally, and educationally by the proposed relocation
- The feasibility of preserving the relationship between the non-custodial parent and child through suitable visitation arrangements
As is clear from this breakdown, relocating and seeking to remain or become a custodial parent is not as simple as taking the steps to make a move. The math becomes trickier when family law courts get involved.
This is where the experienced family law lawyers at Bikel & Schanfield can help. We have significant experience navigating each of these difficult factors to the benefit of our clients before New York family law courts.
Your child custody attorney should be ready to make strong showings on your behalf on each of these fronts. Bikel & Schanfield can help.
If You Plan to Relocate, Courts Will Ask: Why?
While a court seeking to learn the exact basis for a proposed move can seem intrusive, the courts have the authority to parse the parents’ reasons for moving.
A definitive list of valid and invalid reasons for relocation is not enshrined in legal statutes. Instead, valid reasons can include a change of employment, moving to an area with greater family support, moving to a more familiar area, relocating for a new living arrangement, moving for educational opportunities for the parent or the children, and more.
These bases for moving, while valid on their face, will be assessed in conjunction with whether the children are positively or negatively served by the change.
Alternatively, a proposed relocation with an improper or invalid reason can be challenged by the non-custodial parent. A successful challenge can substantially change the custody dynamics.
A challenge to relocation made without merit, though, can negatively affect the challenging parent.
That is why the “basis for opposing relocation” aspect of this factor is just as important as the basis for seeking relocation.
Work with competent attorneys when defending against a challenge for relocating or initiating such a challenge against your relocating spouse. The attorneys at Bikel & Schanfield can help.
Thinking of the Children: Considering Impacts of the Move
Beyond assessing out the reasons for relocation and ensuring that they are based in sound logic and not done for improper motives, courts will also look to whether relocation will have a significant detrimental impact on the children.
If that sounds broad, it is because it is.
This basic negative impact analysis can take a number of forms but looks primarily to whether the children’s lives will be upset in some material way by relocation.
For instance, can the children continue attending the same school from the new location? If they cannot, are the schools in the new location similar to the current school? If a child has special needs, will the needs be taken care of? Is the new location a better environment for the child?
If you are currently in the position of considering relocation, you have no doubt considered all of the basic factors that go into moving children. You should be aware that a court will, too.
Spouses opposing relocation, either to make your life more difficult or to make theirs easier, will likely have considered all of these factors and more.
Much like with the reasons giving rise to the move, there is no definitive list of what constitutes a move with no negative impact or a move with assured negative impact on the children.
Consulting experienced family law lawyers like those at Bikel & Schanfield can help guide you through the questions that a divorce court or your spouse’s attorneys will no doubt ask. Being prepared and anticipating any potential challenges to an attempted relocation is the best way to proceed with a request to relocate in the first place, or surmount a challenge to a relocation request one if one is raised.