Divorce can be a traumatic event. Ending a marriage may throw your entire world into upheaval. After surviving this experience, many people simply want to get away and a relocation is an option. Some move to a new place to escape negative memories; to be near family, friends, or another support system; or for new career opportunities.
There are as many individual reasons to leave as there are for divorce. But when there are children involved, choosing to relocate to another state becomes more complicated. If you have primary custody, you will need to figure out whether or not you can move with your children.
If it’s just you, you can move wherever you like, whenever you like. If you have shared custody of your kids, however, things get much more complex. The decision to relocate impacts not only your life but also the life and visitation of your former spouse.
When there are minor children involved, a key part of the divorce process is creating a parenting plan laying out the custody and visitation arrangement. Scheduling vacations, weekend visits, and the rest can be difficult enough if you and your ex live in the same city. But what if you want to move out of state? Things can get twisted in a hurry, and your divorce agreement will likely have much to say on this matter.
You can’t just up and move if you’re the custodial parent. There’s a procedure to follow for relocation. If you do move without permission, you can face fines, contempt charges, and even jail time. You need prior permission from the courts. There are a couple of ways to obtain this, and the most common is a relocation hearing.
If the non-custodial parent objects to you moving away with the kids, you will likely wind up in front of a judge. You may need to file for a modification to your current custody order and request permission to relocate. At the same time, your ex can also file to prevent you from moving away with the kids.
In the majority of cases, you and your ex will have to appear at a relocation hearing. As with most situations where children play a role, the court will take their best interests to heart. If you hope to move away, you have to prove that this will improve the child’s quality of life, offer a more stable environment, or that you are the best parent.
If you are relocating for a new job, prepare to present the case for how this opportunity aids the child. Perhaps the salary and benefits provide an improvement on previous living conditions. Or it’s possible your paychecks will go farther in a city with a lower cost of living.
Remarriage is also a common reason to relocate. It can’t just be getting married that’s behind this decision, however. Again, you may want to show how this ultimately benefits the kids. Maybe this means a better support system, more stability, or improved financial standing.
Many people relocate to be closer to family members, either their own or those of a new spouse. If this is the reason in your case, show how this promotes your child’s wellbeing. Perhaps grandparents, aunts and uncles, or in-laws will be able to provide childcare instead of relying on babysitters or daycare. Does your child have close ties with these relatives? Are there cousins or other family members close to his or her age? All of these and more can have an influence on your presentation.
There are many motivations to move to a new city or state. Whatever the reasons behind your desire to relocate, your best bet may be to demonstrate to the court why this is the best choice for your children.
Do I Have To Go To Court To Relocate?
Cases where one parent seeks relocation don’t always have to go to court. It’s possible for both parties to come to an agreement on their own. The two sides each have to give their consent and sign the appropriate documents. These, in turn, have to be submitted to the court and approved by a judge. But there is the potential to work out an arrangement outside of the courtroom.
How Can I Prepare To Relocate?
As with most legal proceedings, if you plan to seek permission to relocate with your children, preparation is key. There are a number of questions you must be prepared to answer. One of the biggest, outside of how it benefits the kids, is how it impacts their relationship with your ex?
Never make a decision like this out of sheer bitterness and spite, that won’t reflect well on you in court, or do anyone any favors. It may be in your best interest to create a clear, concise parenting plan that shows you are dedicated to helping your child maintain a close bond with the other parent.
Regular weekly visits will likely be out of the question. Distance makes these incredibly impractical and next to impossible. To make up for the lack of regular face time, you may have to concede longer visits over breaks from school, at holidays, or during summer vacation. This presents a number of logistical concerns to take into account. How will the kids get back and forth? Will you drive them? If the distance is too great and they have to fly, who pays for the plane tickets? Are they old enough to travel alone?
If your ex is willing and able to make the trip to your city, make sure to provide access to the kids during these visits. If you have the means, you may want to consider covering all or part of the travel expenses as a show of good faith.
Even if your former spouse isn’t able to make the journey on a regular basis, we live in a world with more communication options than ever before. Cell phones, video chats, text messages, and email are just a few tools you can use to help preserve the relationship between your kids and your ex.
Communication is key across the board. Even if in-person visits wind up few and far between, be sure the flow of information doesn’t dry up. Offer your ex updates about what the kids are doing. Whether it’s school, doctor’s appointments, grades, or disciplinary issues, make sure to keep channels open. It may be the mundane daily bits but involved, concerned parents want to know these things. Try to make your ex as much a part of your children’s regular lives as you can.
Don’t spring a potential move on the noncustodial parent at the last minute. Such a sudden shift may feel vindictive or malicious. At the very least, it may cause your ex to panic and act irrationally or in haste. It takes time to work out an arrangement. If you do wind up needing a relocation hearing, the courts are often backlogged and your case likely won’t be resolved right away. In most of these situations, just a month or so isn’t enough lead time for anyone.
Even if relocation is nothing more than a faint future possibility, you may want to bring it up. If you apply for a job in another city or state, if you’re getting remarried, or if you’re considering moving to be closer to family, broach the subject. Be open and upfront about it and make sure it’s a known quantity. That way it won’t feel like a surprise or an attack.
These are just a few ideas to think about if you’re considering moving out of state with your children after a divorce. Have a strategy and plan for every possibility you can think of. Have an answer to any question the court or your ex may ask. Basically, the more prepared you are ahead of time, the better your chances for an optimal outcome.