can i keep my ex from leaving state

Parental Relocation: Can Your Ex Move With Your Child?

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In most situations, divorce represents a titanic life change, one with lasting repercussions. A traumatic experience, after ending a marriage, many people want to get as far away as possible. If it’s just you, that’s simple enough. But when there are kids involved, it complicates matters.

What if your ex has custody and wants to relocate?

Child custody is a huge point of concern if it is a factor in your divorce, and one of the components of a parenting plan (custody agreement) is where exactly the parent with primary custody can live with the children.

Moving to a new house within the same school district is one thing. In these cases, the noncustodial parent has no grounds to object, though the new contact information should be shared.

But a great distance, outside of the child’s current school district or to another state, is something else entirely.

The reasons to relocate after divorce are many. Escaping negative memories is big, new career and employment opportunities often figure into the decision, and being near family, friends, or a support system often plays a role.

As with many issues in dissolving a marriage, children muddy the waters. Moving out of state impacts the lives of everyone,  both parents and kids.

Parenting Plan And Relocation

Creating a parenting plan is a big part of the divorce process when children figure into the equation. This is where you and your spouse hash out the details when it comes to your respective parenting duties. The two sides must arrange primary custody, visitation, child support, and more.

Laying the groundwork for a parenting plan can be a challenge in the best of circumstances. Schedules come into play and all manner of logistical concerns get in the way. It’s difficult enough to set up vacations, weekend visits, soccer games, after-school activities, and all the rest if you and your ex live in the same place.

A great deal of effort goes into this, and your parenting plan will likely have quite a bit to say about whether or not your ex can relocate with your kids. In order to move, the custodial parent must file for a modification to the current custody agreement and request permission.

If there isn’t a parenting plan or custody order in play, the custodial parent may be free to move at will.

At least as long as there are no violations of Washington’s laws against custodial interference or the Uniform Child Custody and Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act.

Related Reading: What Does a Parenting Plan Include?

Parental Relocation Hearings

The good news for you is that your ex can’t simply decide to relocate with the kids. Like most things regarding kids, there’s a process and a procedure to follow and you have recourse. Moving away without the express permission of the court can result in contempt charges, fines, and even jail time.

The most common way to obtain this authorization is through a relocation hearing. If your ex and wants to relocate with the kids, unless you’re okay with that, you’ll likely wind up in front of a judge.

In Washington, the custodial parent is required to give a minimum of 60 days notice before the move. Once notice is served, the noncustodial parent has 30 days to file a formal objection.

After that, a trial will be set to determine whether or not the move is in the best interest of the child.

Related ReadingGuardian Ad Litem: What You Need to Know

How Does The Court Decide?

When it comes to child custody and matters involving minors, the best interest of the kids trumps almost everything else. This is what the courts weigh most heavily in these matters. Much more than parental preference or convenience.

Your ex may argue that moving to a new area enhances the children’s quality of life.

  • Perhaps there’s a new job or financial opportunity,
  • an extended network of family to provide childcare
  • or increased stability.
  • Remarriage is also a common drive in these cases,
  • and perhaps the child’s needs will be better met in a new environment.

There are a wide variety of reasons why people chose to relocate.

If you hope to block this, you have to show that where the child lives currently is the best possible situation. This can be tough, and the custodial parent usually has the edge.

The strain of removing the child from a familiar environment and of reducing contact with the non-custodial parent are two elements that play into this.

What Does The Court Look At When Making a Decision?

    • What is the motivation or desire prompting the relocation?
    • Are there advantages that will benefit the child and improve their life?
    • For what reason are you opposing this move?
    • Logistics and financial impact.
    • What disadvantages will be caused by the move?
    • Is it possible to arrange a reasonable visitation schedule that will preserve the parental relationship with the non-custodial parent?
    • The likelihood that the parent with primary custody will honor the agreement
    • Will a move truly afford the child(ren) an opportunity to form a relationship and bond with extended members of their family?

In Washington State, the primary burden is actually upon the non-custodial parent. If the parent with primary custody desires to remove the child from the state, it must be demonstrated that keeping the child in state is in their best interest.

It can potentially be difficult to contest a request from a parent seeking to prevent the parent who has primary custody from moving your children away from you.

Whether they have a new spouse from a different area, a job that necessitates a move, or need to care for sick relatives, the bottom line is that unless the non-custodial parent has a very compelling reason to prevent their former spouse from relocating, it can be very tricky to legally stop a move.

Do You Have To Go Court If Your Ex Want To Relocate?

Relocation hearings don’t always happen when one parent wants to move away or out of state. If you and your ex can work out the details together, it’s possible to come to an arrangement on your own. It may be complicated, but it is an option.

In the case of an out-of-state move, both parents will have to give their consent and sign the appropriate documents. Before relocation can happen, a judge still has to sign off on the matter and approve the move.

How To Make It Work

No matter how prepared you are, your ex may be granted permission to relocate with your children. Ideally, this decision will truly be what’s best for the kids, not one made out of spite or bitterness. Though that doesn’t make being apart from your family any easier. And a great distance creates a new set of logistical problems to overcome.

As your usual visitation won’t likely work anymore, you’ll have to make other arrangements.

  • Instead of weekly overnights, perhaps your ex will make additional concessions.
  • You may be able to coordinate longer visits over holidays, summer vacations, or breaks from school.

Travel is another issue you may face after relocation. The distance may be too large to drive and the kids have to fly back and forth.

In this situation, who pays for the plane tickets? Are the kids old enough to fly by themselves? If you go to them, if you make the effort to visit the new city, you’re going to incur your own travel costs.

These are all issues that you will have to confront and deal with. Hopefully, both sides are amicable and able to work out a beneficial arrangement for everyone involved.

Communication Afterwards

Even if you aren’t able to visit your children in person as often, there are many other options for communication. With cell phones, text messages, video chats, and social media, there are more tools available than ever before. Just because you’re far away, doesn’t mean you don’t have opportunities to interact and stay in touch with the kids.

Though there may be a great physical distance, you can remain an active part of your child’s life.

  • Make sure that the flow of information doesn’t dry up.
  • Do your best to keep up to date on their daily lives.
  • Whether it’s medical appointments, baseball games, grades, or disciplinary issues, keep the lines of communication as open as possible.

These may be the mundane details, but they’re important to maintaining an active presence in your children’s lives.


The level of communication between you and your ex after divorce will likely vary a great deal. But if you have kids, there will necessarily be at least some form of interaction. Ideally, if your former spouse intends to relocate, they’ll tell you well in advance.

They’re legally required to give 60 days’ notice, but hopefully, there will be more than the minimum. Maybe even if it’s just an idea, or they apply for a job in a new city, they’ll broach the subject.

The more notice you receive, the more time you have to prepare. Either to contest the proposed move or to hammer out the logistics of the new arrangement. If you do plan to fight relocation, and the two sides can’t come to an agreement, you may want to hire an attorney to help with the court process. These trials can be complex and contentious, and it may be your best option to have someone represent your rights and interests.

Storytime: An Extreme Example

We know a guy (not a client) who married a native of Europe. They lived stateside for several years and began having relationship problems. When she became pregnant, she insisted upon returning to her home country to have the child. He was advised by friends that if the relationship ended, that was going to have a huge impact on his chances of getting a fair shake at custody.

In the end, she had that child in her home country as well as the second who eventually arrived. By the time they had the third, she had convinced him into actually moving to Europe where he encountered employment difficulties.

He eventually accepted a generous employment offer that necessitated a return to the US but she refused to return with him. He came back alone assuming that his family would eventually join him but after a few months, he found out that she was planning to file for divorce and take everything including the kids.

To make a long story short, the European Court determined that if he wanted to see his kids, he would have to go there and they won’t even consider compelling his former spouse to let the kids come to the US for at least a year.

She got to keep everything and he has to send her thousands each month for spousal and child support.

We share this story to illustrate that when emotions come into play, huge, obvious warning signs are often missed or ignored leading to extremely unfavorable outcomes.

If you don’t have a custody order or aren’t planning to get one, please realize its significance and understand that your parental rights may already in jeopardy. If you don’t have primary custody and your former spouse has a marginally reasonable argument to move away with your kids.

Whether they have a new spouse from a different area, a job that necessitates a move, or need to care for sick relatives, the bottom line is that unless the non-custodial parent has a very compelling reason to prevent their former spouse from relocating, it can be very tricky to legally stop a move.

Other ReadingCan Your Ex Keep Your Kids From Sports?
Related ReadingCan You Modify Child Support Payments?

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