A move or relocation is a common occurrence that happens all the time and for many different purposes. Whether it’s for professional or personal reasons, the process is well-defined and, though likely a hassle at times, fairly easy to navigate.
However, like many things in life, relocating after divorce can become more complicated when you have children. It can become even more complicated when you are divorced or separated and have children.
People with children are more likely to relocate during the summer months to avoid disrupting their child’s school year. Whenever parents decide to relocate, it's important they be made aware of the specific legal procedures to follow, and that their attorney understands the practical considerations that go into building a strong relocation case.
1. In most cases, children are the parents’ top concern, creating custodial agreements is a complicated equation. Subtract a marriage and add a geographical difference between each parent’s home and tensions can rise. As a result, parents facing relocation should prepare for the likelihood of a court appearance, and put thoughtful time into building a case to support their move.
2. In family court, the well-being of the child trumps most other circumstances of the case at hand. Parents should gather as much information as possible about how the move is in the best interest of the child. Information on school districts and corresponding opportunities and resources such as gifted programs and AP courses, extra-curricular activities, and proficiency of standardized testing is a good place to start.
3. It’s also important to gather details about the new community. Are there local doctors’ offices, recreational areas and community organizations similar to what your family is involved within your current location? For example, if your family is active in a particular religion, will your child be able to remain active in your new area? It’s also smart to document colleges local to your new home and to prepare a list of child care support you will have.
4. Parents should also gather general statistical information about their new community including climate details and crime rate. This ensures safety and physical well-being of the child. If the new home is extremely different from your current location, you can be prepared with how you will help your child to acclimate.
5. Remember also to include information about why you are moving. If the relocation includes a new job opportunity that will improve the quality of life for your family, that information will greatly help your case. Lastly, parents must consider alternative custody arrangements. What schedule will be in place to ensure that the relationship between the children and the non-relocating parent will be maintained and fostered? The relocating parent may have the best of reasons for wanting to relocate. However, the impact of the move on the non-relocating parent is of equal concern.
It’s important for family law attorneys to use their understanding of state divorce laws to guide the parent toward forming their individual case. As attorneys, we also have the opportunity to ensure our clients truly recognize all aspects of relocation to help the parent make the right decisions.
Attorneys have the opportunity to help the relocating parent understand what happens if the other parent contests the move. This can be emotionally difficult as it essentially involves arguing that the child’s life will be largely the same if not positively impacted by being separated from the other parent. You can help clients be prepared for the court, and possibly loved ones, to be critical of their decision to move. It helps to work with the relocating parent to create a fair legal plan for how the child will keep in touch and regularly see the other parent.
Attorneys fight to preserve the family as much as possible through a separation. This includes helping clients understand how their children are impacted by their every decision. Getting the court’s approval to move away can be complicated and life after the move can be even more so. Attorneys and clients working together with a children-first mentality can be the right combination to equal positive outcomes for the entire family.