If a parent has to relocate after a divorce, does he or she have a right to seek physical custody of a child? The answer is not as simple as yes or no. Although a relocating parent does have legal rights, the court’s primary concern in a child custody determination is whether the relocation will be in a child’s best interests.
As a preliminary matter, a court will likely inquire into the reasons motivating a parent’s decision to relocate. Many family law courts prefer joint custody arrangements that allow both parents to remain active in a child’s life. A relocation request involving a significant distance frustrates the court’s default preference, forcing the court to make a physical custody determination to only one parent.
Accepting a new job offer that will provide a better lifestyle is certainly a legitimate reason, but a court will want assurances that the new location will also provide the educational and community support that the child needs. The court will also examine whether the reduced contact between a child and the other parent will be detrimental. Said another way, the court may seek testimony, perhaps from a child psychologist or other expert, that the parent making the relocation (and sole physical custody request) has the closest bond with the minor child.
Granted, creative approaches to custody may be possible. For example, parents may share joint legal custody even when one parent has sole physical custody. Shared legal custody would require both parents to make decisions on the child’s behalf for important matters, such as medical care or educational decisions. Our law firm has experience helping clients find the best solutions regarding child custody and visitation.
Source: Huffington Post, “I Fought Parental Alienation with Love... and Love Won,” Berni Xiong, April 27, 2016