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What You Need To Know About Relocation and Child Custody

Idaho Falls Relocation and Child Custody

Several decades ago, the idea of relocation was pretty foreign.  For the most part, child custody issues were pretty cut and dry: There was a custodial parent (most often the mother) and a non-custodial parent (typically the father).  If the  parent with custody planned to relocate, they were generally free to do so.  Today, the courts strongly consider both parents’ involvement in the life of the children important.  Father’s rights, in particular, have become a bigger focus as more fathers are concerned with being active in the lives of their children, and relocation concerns are often at the forefront of many child custody discussions.

Many fathers today truly share in the parenting of their children.  If a parent wants to relocate with the minor children, this creates a major issue for the remaining parent who wants to remain active in the lives of their children.  The law and the courts look primarily to see if there is a sufficient and reasonable basis for the children to be uprooted.  Frequent reasons for relocation include: A change in employment or job opportunity; remarriage to someone living in another location; and a desire to move closer to other family members.

How a court handles relocation cases depends upon several factors.  First, the court is looking at whether or not the pending matter is an initial determination (such as at the time of a divorce) or a modification of an existing order.  If no previous order or decree exists, the court will consider the reason(s) for the move and look to determine what the best interest of the children would be.  If a custody order or decree already exists, the moving parent needs to first show that there has been a “permanent and material change of circumstances” or in other words, a significant reason to support the children to move.  Once this is shown, the court will look at what is in the best interest of the children, like an initial determination.  Consideration also needs to be given to what the court order(s) and decree(s) say.  Many orders and decrees have specific language about how far the primary custodial parent can move without getting permission from the Court or the other parent.  Sometimes there is specific language regarding notifying the other parent of a contemplated move.

A move across town or even to a nearby town (30-50 miles away) generally does not require getting the court’s permission.  However, the other party may object to the move and may petition the court to either change custody or require the moving party to keep the children in the same schools, provide transportation, etc.   A move more than 50 miles usually has a larger impact on the ability for the parent having secondary custody to have reasonable opportunity to be with the children and to attend sporting events, concerts, parent teacher conferences, etc.   Longer distances also have a tiring effect on children who have to frequently travel between parents, which also interferes with their extracurricular activities and social events.  The “visiting parent” is often put in circumstances where he or she is perceived as interfering with the child’s desires.  My experience has been that over time, the amount of time spent with the parent having secondary custody becomes less and less.

Nevertheless, in many cases relocation is necessary and parents need to recognize what impact the move will have on the children and their personal relationship with the children.  If the opportunity presents itself when the parties are discussing relocation, some of the things that you may want to consider include:

  • Should you use a mediator to aid in the discussions?  Often having a mediator lead the discussions before the parties become entrenched in their positions could save thousands of dollars.  With relocation cases there is often a pressing need to relocate quickly.  If a new position is open, the prospective employer probably will not wait for the litigation to be completed before filling the position with another person.  Motions and supporting documents either requesting permission to move or to prevent the move are filed with the Court and take substantial time.  Meeting with a mediator quickly can save both time and money as explained in the material on my website, AttorneyIdaho.com.
  • What will work in the long run?  I have seen many situations where the parents enter into agreements that are not sustainable in the long run.  For example, people may agree to the same visitation as when the parties lived close to each other (such as every other weekend) .  However, with any significant distance,  the road becomes old  for everyone, particularly the children.  My experience has been that if the parties are within a couple of hours of driving distance, monthly visitations are generally workable.
  • What is each parent’s ability to transport the children?  Who should be responsible for what transportation? Some parents are very afraid to drive, particularly on slick roads.  Some parents do not have reliable transportation.  Other parents have work commitments that make it difficult to be at a particular place at a specified time (e.g. “halfway” at 6:00 on Friday).  There is also the question as to whether someone else can or should provide the transportation, such as a new spouse.  If the distance is great, airline transportation may be the best option.  This requires  the parties to consideration what airports are to be used (e.g. major airports are often used to allow for direct flights, age of the children,  the need and cost to have an escort, etc.  If unaccompanied, extra fees could be charged.
  • Where should parenting time take place?  Parents can think creatively on where to have parenting time.  If the distance between the parents is significant, some visitation could take place in the city where the children primarily reside.  This would enable the children to participate and parents attend or participate in extracurricular activities, etc.
  • What can be done on a regular basis?  A parent far away can still have regular contact with their children.  Discussion topics could include availability of the children at specified times, access to telephone, Skype, Facetime, etc.  Will both parents agree to have the necessary equipment? Length of call according to the age of child should also be considered.  For older children, will they be allowed to have their own phone for messages, texts, etc.?

An experienced family law attorney can help to guide you in making solid decisions in a relocation situation whether you are the one contemplating a move or having to decide how you should react to the other parent proposing to move with your children away from you.  Please feel free to contact us to help you with your situation.

David A. Johnson has been providing quality legal services in East Idaho. As both a private attorney and as a former Bonneville County Prosecuting Attorney, Mr. Johnson has substantial courtroom experience. Mr. Johnson has handled cases all over the State of Idaho. His primary areas of practice are in Bonneville, Bingham, Butte, Jefferson, Madison, Fremont Bannock and Jefferson Counties. In addition, to Idaho Falls, we serve residences in the Blackfoot, Shelley, Firth, Rigby, Rexburg, St. Anthony, Ashton, Ammon, Driggs and Victor, Idaho. [Read more..]