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, relocation is simple enough. But when there are kids involved, it complicates matters.
We generally talk about this as if your ex wants to relocate with the kids. In reality, however, the same rules and restrictions also apply if you plan to move.
What if your ex has custody and wants to relocate?
Child custody is a huge point of concern and contention in many divorces. One of the components of a parenting plan is where exactly the parent with primary custody lives 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 must be shared.
But a great distance, outside of the child’s current school district or to another state for example, is something else entirely.
The reasons for relocation after divorce are many. Escaping negative memories, new career and employment opportunities, and being near family, friends, or a support system. All of these factors and more often play a part in the decision.
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.
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Parenting Plans 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 even if you and your ex live in the same place.
A great deal of effort goes into this document. Ultimately, your parenting plan has quite a bit to say about whether or not you or 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.
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Parental Relocation Hearings
The good news for you is that in most cases your ex can’t simply decide to relocate with the kids.
Like most things regarding kids, there’s a strict 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 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, the court sets a trial to determine whether or not the move represents the best interest of the child.
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How Does The Court Decide on Relocation?
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 moving to a new area enhances the children’s quality of life in one way or another.
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. The child’s needs may be better met in a new environment.
There are a wide variety of reasons why people choose to relocate.
If you hope to block a move, you have to show that where the child lives currently is the best possible situation. This can be tough, however, 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.
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What Does The Court Look At When Making a Decision?
- What motivation or desire prompted the relocation?
- Are there advantages that benefit the child and improve their life?
- Why do you oppose this move?
- What are the logistics and financial impact?
- What disadvantages will the move cause?
- Is it possible to arrange a reasonable visitation schedule that preserves the parental relationship with the non-custodial parent?
- What’s 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, you must demonstrate that keeping the child in the state is in their best interest.
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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 must give their consent and sign the appropriate documents. Before relocation happens, a judge also still has to sign off on the matter and approve the move.
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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. However, that doesn’t make being apart from your family any easier.
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 face after relocation. If the distance is too long to reasonably drive, the kids will likely 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 and make the effort to visit the new city, you incur your own travel costs.
These are all issues that you must confront and deal with. Ideally, both sides are amicable and able to work out a beneficial arrangement for everyone involved.
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Even if you aren’t able to visit your children in person as often, you have other options for keeping in contact.
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 a regular part of your child’s routine.
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 often seem like mundane details, but they’re important to maintaining an active presence as your child continues to grow up.
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Preparing for Relocation
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.
As we said, they’re legally required to give 60 days’ notice, but hopefully, they provide more than the bare minimum. Even if it’s just an idea, or they let you know they applied for a job in a new city, hopefully they broach the subject well in advance.
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, consider hiring an attorney to help with the court process. These trials get complex and contentious, and it’s usually your smartest option to have someone represent your rights and interests.
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If you don’t have a custody order or aren’t planning to get one, please realize the significance. Understand that your parental rights may already be in jeopardy if you don’t have primary custody and your former spouse has a 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 you, the non-custodial parent, have a compelling reason to prevent your ex from relocating, it’s tricky to legally stop a move.
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From The Radio:
One of our founding partners, Rick Jones, regularly appears on the Danny Bonaduce and Sarah Morning Show, where he answers family law questions from listeners. As you might imagine, this question comes up fairly often.
Caller Question: “My wife and I are divorced and she has primary custody. She wants to take a job in Eastern Washington and move our kids there. She said since it’s not across state lines, she can do it. It’s hours away, you know?”
Rick’s Answer: “What she’s not right about, is that there’s relevance to the state line that she can just pack up and move from corner to corner.
“She’s still going to be under the requirement of your parenting plan to provide a formal of her intent to relocate. Once she does that, you’re on the clock.
“She doesn’t have to file a case or do anything actively with the court, at that point you have the option to do what’s called a formal objection, which is a court filing, so now it becomes a case.
“Ultimately, there is going to be favoritism on allowing the primary parent to move or relocate, so long as there’s a facially valid reason, and moving for employment is often looked at as a facially valid reason.
“Strategically though, what you want to do is make it difficult, because if it was just about convenience or if she’s just trying to jab you, you’ll want to file that objection, and make it something that she has to prove a point to. Make it something that’ll cost her a little bit of money if she’s serious about it. During that period of time, months go by and maybe that job opportunity goes away.
“I call it a bit of a battle of attrition, put up a defense, and even though you’re fighting a tough fight, you still may end up prevailing based on those two comments.”
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