Relocation After Divorce: What You Need to Know

Many women consider relocation after divorce as a way to put their divorce behind them and make a fresh start somewhere new. But moving out of state can present problems if there are minor children from the marriage and both parents aren't in agreement concerning the move. If you are thinking about relocating with your children, take the following tips into consideration before just packing up and moving away. It can save you a lot of legal headaches!

Arguing for Relocation

by Brette Sember, J.D.

Moving box with relocation printed on side

One of the most common issues that comes up after a custody order is in place is relocation. There are lots of reasons you might want to relocate at some point: remarriage, a new job, a change of scenery, or to be closer to family. A move can be good for you and for your kids. The problem is that a move will affect your parenting plan. If your ex has visitation every other weekend and you move 500 miles away, your current plan isn't going to work. Understandably, your ex is likely to be upset by the idea of the relocation and may take steps to prevent you from going.

Going Back to Court Over Relocation

There are two ways you can end up back in court about relocation. The parent who wants to move away may file for a modification of the existing custody order to request permission for the move and a new visitation plan. The parent who is staying put can file seeking to prevent the other parent from taking the kids and going.

Preparing for a Relocation Hearing

If you and your ex cannot reach an agreement about the move (and I highly recommend you try mediation before you hash this out in court), you'll have a hearing and the judge will decide if you are allowed to move with your children. The main question in the mind of the court is whether the move is in the best interests of the children. Will moving bring a better quality of life, a more stable environment, a better experience, and a parent who is better able to support and parent them?

When you're getting ready for the hearing, you want to focus on putting together evidence and information that will persuade the judge:

  • The move will create a more stable financial situation for the family. If you or your new spouse has a new job that requires the move, be prepared to offer evidence about the new salary and benefits and how that will improve the family's situation. Some parents relocate so that they can move in with family and save on living expenses and babysitting costs. If this is the case, show how much you will save and how it will benefit the family.

  • You are moving to get married. This is common reason for a move, but you have to be careful to offer more than just the marriage as a reason. Maybe this will mean a better home, more support, a family unit, improved finances, and a positive change for the family.

  • A better support system is available at the new location. If you are living in a place where you have very little family, moving to where your family is can be a positive move for your kids. Be prepared to discuss how much family is at the new location and how they will be able to support and assist you. Offer evidence about your children's relationships with their relatives so it is clear there are close ties.

  • You're moving for a change of scenery and fresh start. Sometimes after a messy divorce or break up, a fresh start is what you feel you need. This can be positive for the entire family, but you have to be careful not to present this as a need to put some distance between you and your ex. Moving to get away from your ex is generally not considered beneficial for your children. Instead, be prepared to show how the new location will improve your life. Maybe there are better jobs or educational opportunities there, or better medical facilities for your children. Put together all the positive factors you possibly can to present to the court.

Present a Clear Parenting Plan

In addition to explaining exactly why you're moving and how it will benefit the children, there is a giant question you must answer. How will this affect your children's relationship with the other parent? Obviously, weekly visits will be impossible. Come up with a careful plan that will show you are committed to maintaining a close relationship between your children and the other parent. Consider things like:

  • Long summer and school vacation visits. This may not be part of your current plan, but you really will need to include lengthy visits in the new plan to make up for the weekly contact. You will also want to think about how the children will get there. Will you drive them? Share the driving? Split the cost of airfare? Think these details through and offer a proposal that you think is fair.

  • Access to the children at your new home. If your ex is able to travel to your location, make it clear you will provide access during these trips. Provide a reasonable number of these types of visits.

  • Contact via technology. Offer to give your ex lots of access via cell phone, Skype, texts, emails, etc. Ongoing communication is very important for maintaining a parent-child relationship.

  • Information sharing. Be clear that you will keep your ex up to date about school, activities, and doctor appointments.

Offer Detailed, Persuasive Evidence

The more details you can give the court, the better prepared you will appear. Coming to court and saying you want to move to a state across the country is very vague. If you can come and say you want to move to a specific town and you have already picked out an apartment or home and have a job lined up and have visited schools in the area, you look like you've been very careful about what you have decided and that you will continue to make decisions that benefit your children.

Another piece of the puzzle will be evidence about the other parent's current role in your children's life. While it is important to be truthful, you want to try to spin this so it is clear you are the primary parent and you spend the most time with your child. In other words, while you are making it clear you will continue to support a relationship, you want to downplay the existing relationship so that it will seem as though the move will not be that great a loss to your child. This is a fine line to walk because you don't want to appear to be unsupportive of that relationship, but you do want the court to understand that the benefits for your children far outweigh any detriments. Be sure to mention visits your ex has missed or cut short.

A relocation decision is a difficult one for any court, so the better prepared you are and the more persuasive evidence you can offer, the more likely you are to be able to move.

Brette Sember
Author Brette Sember

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