If ex-spouses live in the same area, custody and visitation agreements are typically easy to facilitate. However, the situation can become significantly more challenging if one parent wishes to move out of the area, especially if the custodial parent is looking to move.

In this case, relocation can make it very difficult for the noncustodial parent to see the children – meaning that a disputed relocation with children nearly always requires court approval. 

Relocation Rules in Regards to Custody 

The most advantageous situation for a custodial parent looking to relocate with children is for both parents to agree to the move. There must also be a new, fair agreement on how and when the noncustodial parent will see the children. If the ex-spouses can agree without a court battle, they will sign a stipulation and consent agreement and submit it to the court.

If the judge decides the relocation is in the child’s best interest, the agreement generates a new court order with the revised custody arrangement. Sadly, most divorced parents have difficulty coming to these alternative arrangements without court intervention. 

A mediator may help if the noncustodial parent will not agree to the children moving, or the new arrangements being offered by the custodial parent are unacceptable. If the parents cannot reach a solution, the court must approve the relocation. 

What is in the Child’s Best Interest?

The court determines the child’s best interest in the original custody agreement. If the custodial parent subsequently decides to move, the court may weigh several factors into their revised decision: 

* Reasons for the relocation

* Quality of schools at the new location

* Family members (on either parent’s side) near the new location

* Career or financial opportunity for the custodial parent 

* The ability and ease of the noncustodial parent to still see the children 

The judge will consider the potential benefits of the move against the downside of moving farther away from the noncustodial parent. Ignoring the process or moving without approval can result in an Emergency Custody Petition or Motion being filed against you, which can harm your chances of maintaining custody. 

Noncustodial Parent Moves

In most jurisdictions, a noncustodial parent is not required to obtain court approval – or pursue a new agreement with the custodial parent – before relocating. As long as they can maintain their original agreement, they can legally maintain their rights. 

However, if the noncustodial parent’s new location makes the original visitation plan impossible, a new plan must be agreed upon. Remember, the custodial parent may rely on the current plan to keep their job or pursue other interests. It is the responsibility of the noncustodial parent to attempt to facilitate a new visitation schedule with the custodial parent. This new agreement should address their plans for transportation, communication, and any related expenses that could arise.

If both parties agree to the new arrangement, they can submit an agreement to the court for review and approval. If the parents cannot agree on a new plan, the noncustodial parent is required to file a motion asking the judge to update the order.

Call a Family Law Attorney 

Whether you are a custodial or noncustodial parent, relocating after divorce can become a complex legal matter. While you may think your move is logical and practical, your ex-spouse may disagree – and breaking your court-ordered custody or visitation agreement may bring devastating results. 

If you are divorced with children and considering moving, speak with your ex-spouse. But if you cannot agree to the terms of your proposed new situation, make sure you have the legal representation of a Sarasota family law attorney to ensure your rights are protected. 

Richard V. Ellis is a Sarasota family law and bankruptcy attorney who has helped hundreds of families achieve solutions and move on with their life.