Parental Relocation in Child Custody Cases

Child custody matters are challenging enough when parents live near each other and the children can see both parents on a regular basis. When one parent needs or wants to move out of the area, the logistics of child custody become even more complicated.

Most child custody professionals recognize that it is usually ideal for a child to have both parents living in the same general area. Often, however, there are good reasons for a parent to relocate from the area, such as:

  • A new job or reassignment
  • A new marriage
  • To be closer to extended family members
  • Significant economic reasons to live in an area with a better cost of living
  • Educational opportunities
  • Health treatment

If one parent wants to move with the child, it is ideal for the parents to reach an agreement as to the logistics, including any changes to the parenting time schedule and transportation arrangements for the child’s travel to the noncustodial parent. By resolving these issues on their own or with the help of their attorneys, parents can use their unique knowledge of their child’s needs and their family’s schedules to craft an arrangement that works for them.

Often, however, the noncustodial parent is unwilling to consent to the move for any number of reasons. They may feel the children would benefit from continuity in their existing social, educational, and living environment. Or they may feel the other parent is relocating in bad faith to spite them. Or they may, understandably, be unwilling to give up their existing level of involvement in their child’s day-to-day life. Or other reasons may exist, such as a child’s current special needs or activities or health or emotional issues that could worsen from a relocation. Depending on the distance involved, a parental move may create a situation in which a child no longer gets to see one parent on a regular basis and may only get to see that parent a few times per year.

Courts that deal with the issue of parental relocation must balance a possibly compelling reason for a move against the disruption the move will cause to a child custody arrangement. As always in matters involving child custody, the court’s primary consideration must be what is in the best interest of the child.

Laws Regarding Relocation and Child Custody

Different jurisdictions may have different laws about what is required for a custodial parent to move away with the child. The Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, including the state of Maryland, has a highly mobile population. It is common for parents to need to relocate out of the city, state, and sometimes internationally. The experienced attorneys of Strickler, Platnick & Hatfield have successfully handled numerous parental relocation matters, including ones involving international custody issues.

The relocation of a parent far enough away that it requires significant changes to the existing custodial arrangement may require court intervention. If a formal written parenting agreement or court order already addresses custody issues, the changes desired are referred to as a “custody modification.” A first question in any custody modification is which state’s courts have the power to order the change in the custodial situation. This question alone can be complex, depending on the factual situation and where the parties and children live, especially if these are already in different states. This decision will in turn determine which laws apply to a contemplated relocation.

In Maryland, for example, when a parent wants to relocate, whether with or without a child, the court may require that the parent seeking to relocate notify the other parent, the court, or both at least 90 days in advance of the proposed move. This gives the other parent the chance to object to the proposed relocation, and file a petition with the court to modify custody if the move occurs. A hearing will then be held on the matter. While a court cannot prevent a parent from moving, it can decide whether the child can be moved and what the future custody and access situation will be if the move occurs.

At the hearing, the judge will first determine whether the relocation amounts to a “material change of circumstances” that affects the best interest of the child (or children). If this threshold is met, the court will proceed to address the issue of whether the relocation requires changes to the custodial arrangement in the best interest of the child. This could include modification of the access schedule and/or of the decision-making arrangement, or even a prohibition against relocation of the child or children.

District of Columbia courts likewise focus on the best interest of the child. The court will consider a number of factors in evaluating whether the move is in the child’s best interest. Of particular concern are the impact the move will have on the relationship between the child and the non-custodial parent, and how the move will affect visitation between them. The reasons for the move are also highly relevant. In general, ensuring stability for the child is important to the courts, so the benefit of a proposed relocation must be shown to outweigh the benefit of keeping the child in a familiar, stable environment.

How We Assist in Parental Relocation Matters

Whether you are a parent seeking to move to create a better life for your child, or a parent opposing a move in order to prevent disruption of your child’s life and relationships, Strickler, Platnick & Hatfield can help. These types of cases can rapidly become contentious, with each parent convinced that the other party is determined to harm them. As skilled negotiators with extensive experience in mediation, Collaborative divorce, and other forms of alternative dispute resolution, we can often help parents craft a plan that will maintain appropriate relationships and meet everyone’s needs—including their child’s.

If the parents cannot reach resolution on their own, and the decision comes before the court, our attorneys are also accomplished litigators with decades of courtroom experience in family law disputes, including child relocation cases. These determinations are heavily fact-based, and we understand how to weave the facts into a compelling narrative for the court resulting in successful outcomes for our clients.

If you are considering relocation with a child, or need to oppose the other parent’s relocation, we invite you to contact Strickler, Platnick & Hatfield to schedule a consultation.