Many reasons can affect a parent’s decision to move away from their current locale: Promising career opportunities; better emotional or financial support networks (e.g. closer to family and friends), or remarriage. When a primary physical custodial parent (one who has 50% or more of the child sharing time) decides to move away, whether it’s one hour distant, on the opposite side of the country, or even overseas, the current custodial arrangement will be disrupted. This substantial change of circumstances means the parent who wants to move will need to request new custody and visitation orders from the court.
If parents can’t agree on a new visitation schedule, they will have to rely on the court to make the decision for them. The parent who wants to move must request a “move away order” seeking permission to relocate the child(ren) away from the court’s jurisdiction. In this case, the court will consider “the best interests of the child”, as well as the current timeshare and how parents have been exercising their visitation time. California has permissive move-away laws. This means it generally allows the parent with the larger custody time share to move. The courts understand many people moved to California before having children and may want to move to another state later on in life. If the parent with the primary physical custody (i.e. with 65%> timeshare or more) wants to move away, the non-custodial parent has to prove to the court (even before any hearing) that the move will be detrimental to his/her relationship with the child(ren). On the other hand, if parents share equal custody, the court will presume the move will be harmful to the child, and it is up to the parent who wants to move away to prove that the move will be in the best interest of the children, and that the other parent will be able to maintain a continuing relationship with them.
Before they attend a court hearing, parents are required to mediate their situation in order to try to reach an agreement on new visitation schedules. The court provides mediation services to all parents at no cost, but court mediators are unfamiliar with the family’s personal situation and may not have much time or inclination to discuss issues in detail. If parents can’t reach an agreement during this short mediation session, it will be up to the court mediator to make a recommendation to the judge at the hearing. This is when private mediation can be very helpful to reach a consensus and visitation arrangements that both parents can work with. Both a court mediator and a private family law mediator will discuss the following in order to help reach an agreement:
– the children’s relationship with both parents
– the relationship between the parents and how well they communicate with each other
– the reason for the move (it has to be purposeful, not simply to disrupt the other parent’s relationship with the children)
– how parents will maintain continuing contact with the children (e.g. substantial vacation time, virtual visitation using video calling technology)
Move-away situations can be challenging and costly, both emotionally and financially, so it is important for parents to put their personal feelings aside and work toward an agreement that will benefit the children, while allowing them to have a continuing relationship with both parents, no matter how far.