When a marriage ends, the whole family will likely experience many changes. Sometimes, a parent may wish to move out of state for a change of employment or a fresh start following divorce. Although a judge cannot force a parent to remain in California with the child, move-away requests must be made in good faith — and relocation cases can sometimes be complex. If the custodial parent is planning on relocating after divorce to a different state or city, the best interests of the children must be considered first and foremost.
If you have a permanent order for sole physical custody, you may relocate with your child at any time — unless the other parent can show it would be harmful to the child. However, if you have joint custody and are considering moving out of state with your child after divorce, it’s important to understand that you cannot do so without the consent of the other parent. Should the relocation be challenged, there is a certain legal process that must be followed.
In the event of a dispute concerning relocation when custody is shared, the burden of proof is shifted to the parent who is initiating the move. Rather than the other parent having to establish that relocation would be detrimental, the moving parent must prove that relocation is in the best interests of the child.
Under California law, a custodial parent must provide the noncustodial parent with written notice if they intend to relocate with the child for more than 30 days. They are required to send notice at least 45 days prior to the proposed move. This allows the parents to have time to work out a new custody arrangement. Otherwise, if the other parent doesn’t agree to the proposed relocation, they can file an objection with the court and request that the custody order in place be modified.
There is no specific distance that you can move without having to commence a California move-away case. Any relocation that would be disruptive to the child requires consent from the other parent or a court order. While some custody agreements might specify the distance parents can move, courts usually limit the distance to 50 miles. However, relocating less than 50 miles away could still be disruptive to a child, depending on the specific facts and circumstances of the case.
If you’re a custodial parent who wants to move, it doesn’t mean you will automatically lose custody. A judge won’t necessarily modify a custody arrangement simply because relocation would be difficult for a child — a change in custody would only be appropriate if the move would have a severe negative impact on the child. Instead, a judge would consider a number of factors to determine whether the relocation is in the child’s best interests.
California courts will evaluate the following criteria in deciding whether relocation is appropriate:
At the evidentiary hearing in a California move-away case, the judge will examine all relevant evidence. They will also hear testimony from the parents, child custody evaluators, and other relevant witnesses. In addition, children over the age of 14 must be permitted to testify if they wish, unless doing so is not in their best interests. If a child under 14 is mature enough, they may give their preference if the court deems it appropriate.
Sometimes parents will reach an agreement that relocation with the requesting parent is best for the child. In such cases, parents can work together to modify the existing parenting plan to take the change into consideration. Other than ensuring that the best interests of a child are met, there are no definitive guidelines when it comes to drafting a parenting plan in a California move-away case. The objective is to create an arrangement that helps the child thrive and allows them to have continuing contact with both parents.
When creating a long-distance parenting plan, it’s crucial to emphasize healthy and consistent communication with the child. It should also provide for reasonable visitation with the distant parent and include a calendar that outlines a visitation schedule. Details should also be specified regarding the child’s transfer between homes. When parents live too far away for frequent visitation, the parenting plan should ensure contact by phone, email, Zoom, or another method on a regular basis.
If you are thinking about relocating after divorce, it’s essential to ensure the move is in the best interests of your child. Offering dedicated counsel and experienced representation, The Law Offices of Rick D. Banks has been committed to assisting clients throughout Fresno and the surrounding area with a wide variety of divorce and family law matters, including California move-away cases for over 20 years. To schedule a no obligation consultation, call (559) 222-4891.