Spice Girl Mel B’s ex-husband Stephen Belafonte recently asked a court to approve his move from Los Angeles to Miami with their daughter Madison. In the filing documents, Belafonte notes that he has a secure job and solid social network in Miami and he has researched schools and healthcare options in the area. In addition, relocating to the east coast will make it easier for Madison to visit her mother in the UK. These are exactly the types of factors family courts consider when looking at an out-of-state move.
In many divorce settlements, one parent has primary physical custody of the former couple’s children, which means the children live with the custodial parent most of the time. If the custodial parent wants to move with their child for a period of more than 30 days, they need to inform the other parent at least 45 days in advance. This notice period is designed to give the parents time to update their custody agreement or visitation plans. Parents don’t need to give notice for shorter moves, like moving to a new neighborhood in the same town, that won’t interfere with visitation. If the parents both believe the move will be good or at least neutral for the child and they can agree on a new visitation schedule, the custodial parent can proceed with their move.
Otherwise, one of the parents will need to ask the court to issue a judgment. The parent who wants to move can file a request to have the move approved, or the other can file an objection. A family court judge will schedule a hearing and review multiple factors to determine whether the move is in the child’s best interest.
Unless there are legitimate concerns about abuse or domestic violence, a parent cannot relocate to another state without the court’s or the other parent’s approval. A parent who leaves the state without telling their co-parent runs the risk of parental kidnapping charges.
There are no set requirements for a judge to approve a relocation. Courts always prioritize the child’s best interests in custody decisions, and moving decisions are no exception. A judge will look at a variety of factors related to the move, including how far the custodial parent wants to move, why they want to move, and how the move might affect the child’s needs, including emotional and educational development. The court will also consider relationship factors, like how well the parents get along, the child’s relationship with each parent, and whether there are extended family members in the child’s life and where they live. If the child is old enough to give a mature opinion, the judge will listen to their preferences as well.
The combination of all these factors means each case is unique. If the custodial parent wants to relocate for a new job with flexible hours that will give them more time with the child, the court will be more likely to approve the move than if they plan to take an exciting but high-stress job with high travel requirements. If travel realities mean the move will hurt the child’s relationship with their other parent, the court may not approve the move. If the town the custodial parent wants to relocate to has a better school system and lots of extended family in the area, the court might support the move even if it makes visitation more complicated.
If the court doesn’t approve the relocation and the parent wants to move anyway, the judge will change the custody agreement. Moving without the court’s support will usually mean that the other parent will get primary custody.
Unless both parents plan to live near a state line, moving out of the state will usually mean a 50/50 custody split is no longer practical. If parents were sharing custody equally and the court approves a move, the parents will need to update their custody agreement. In many cases, this will mean switching to a custody agreement where the child lives with the custodial parent most of the time and visits the other parent during school breaks.
Along with the schedule changes, the parents will need to decide on issues like who will pay for the child’s travel expenses between parents. Depending on the options for travel and how old the child is, they’ll also need to consider whether a parent will need to accompany the child while they travel, and if so, which parent will do so. Like with most custody changes, if the parents can come to an agreement on their own, the court will usually support that agreement. Otherwise, a family court judge will need to make a decision and issue an order.
If a relocation changes the proportion of time the child spends with each parent, the parents may also need to revisit their child support agreement. In general, living in different states doesn’t get rid of a parent’s child support obligation. This means if the parent with primary custody was already receiving child support payments, moving shouldn’t affect those payments.
Custody agreements may need to be refined or updated again after the move. Under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, state courts can rule on custody disputes if they’re located in either the child’s home state or a state where the child has strong ties. This means if the child moves out of California, the new state might become the legal venue for any custody changes. However, if the child has connections in both states, California would be responsible for future custody decisions because it gave the first custody order after the parents’ separation.
Moving out of state with a minor child after a divorce is a complicated and nuanced situation. Whether a parent wants to move out of state with their child or is concerned about their former spouse moving with the child, parents should talk to an attorney with child custody expertise about their case. Call 619-299-9780 to schedule a free telephone consultation or contact a San Diego family law specialist here.
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