In the world of family law, the most difficult cases to decide are often what’s referred to as “move-away” cases. In many states, there is an entire body of law around this particular situation. For both parents and children, the choice, the court case, and the resulting actions, can be incredibly difficult.
It’s important to know what a move-away case can mean for children.
What is a move-away case?
A move-away case is a situation where divorced or divorcing parents want to move away from their current area. In some cases, parents are just moving to another neighborhood or town nearby; these cases are generally not problematic.
But when a parent leaves the immediate area, painful decisions must be made about custody, visitation, and the overall wellbeing of the child.
What causes move-away cases?
In a perfect world, families would make all decisions together. Even if a couple has made the transition from a married couple to being divorced co-parents, the most positive scenario for their children is for the parents to be able to work together to create a stable environment.
But there are situations which make it difficult or impossible for this to happen. One parent may need to move to California or another state for their job; they may lack emotional or social support in their current area and wish to move to be closer to family or friends, or they may feel that they will have better overall life opportunities in another area.
In married couples, these situations are hopefully tackled together as a family, with a consensus being reached. Unfortunately, sometimes an inability to resolve these sorts of conflicts sometimes causes a divorce, making the ability to move part of the divorce proceedings and custody agreements themselves.
How are move-away cases determined?
Each state and country has its own rules and law around move-away cases, which must be considered when the court looks at the law. In general, however, the child’s best interest is the most important factor in determining whether a parent can both move away and retain custody.
In some states, like California, the burden is placed on the non-custodial parent to prove that a move by the custodial parent would be harmful to the children. In other states with more restrictive laws, however, that burden of proof is placed on the custodial parent. The custodial parent must show that the move is in the best interests of the children.
Courts also consider factors such as:
- What will maintain stability and continuity in a child’s life
- Distance of the proposed move
- Reasons for the move
- Age of the child, with the court more concerned about the potential move the younger the child’s age
- Older children, in fact, may be able to testify to the court regarding where they want to live
- The child’s overall relationship with both of their parents
How will a move-away case affect kids?
Unfortunately, a move-away case is generally very fraught for all parties. From parents who are deeply emotionally involved in being able to see their children regularly, to children who may feel forgotten or as if they are used as bargaining chips, move-away cases may often be very difficult to settle to everyone’s satisfaction.
As parents, what may be most important is letting kids know that everything being decided is to make sure their best interests are served. With young children, this can be difficult; kids may feel powerless, or like they need to try and please both parents. It is the duty of parents to ensure that kids feel safe in whatever situation occurs; the custodial parent in particular needs to facilitate contact with the noncustodial parent, while the noncustodial parent needs to be receptive and work to maintain that contact with their children.
If a custodial parent is considering moving away with their kids, or if a noncustodial parent is told that the custodial parent wants to move, the first step is to get a lawyer experienced in move-away or relocation cases in their state. These cases are difficult and complicated to decide, and courts are often backlogged, so navigating the legal factors can be complex. Allowing plenty of time for the courts to decide the case will prevent complications for either parent.
Remember that it is always in the best interests of the child to have parents who can respect each other and work together. Regardless of the living situation of the children, kids are best served by a stable home life, even if that home is split between two states or countries.