California, like other states, considers the best interests of the child when making custody determinations. Judges recognize that when one parent moves away from the other, this can interfere with the other parent's visitation rights and prove harmful to the children. Consequently, California has established specific procedures to follow for parents who wish to move away from their child's other parent.
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Understanding Custody Arrangements
Several types of custody arrangements are available in California. As a result, the type of custody arrangement you have can affect your ability to move. Joint legal custody occurs when both parents have equal decision-making authority over their child, while joint physical custody occurs when the parents get roughly equal time with the child. Sole custody arrangements occur when one parent has sole decision-making authority over the child and that parent's home is the child's primary place of residence, even though the other parent may still get visitation. A non-custodial parent refers to a parent who does not have decision-making authority over a child or who only gets visitation.
A non-custodial parent is permitted to relocate at any time. However, he may not relocate with the child. Additionally, some custody agreements prevent non-custodial parents from taking children across state lines. This is especially likely if the non-custodial parent has a history of custodial interference, child abuse or only has supervised visitation. In these cases, the non-custodial parent may have to return to California to see their child. The parents may enter into a new custody agreement -- with the permission of a family court judge -- modifying the visitation agreement if they choose.
Joint Custody Relocation
When either parent relocates in a joint custody arrangement, visitation schedules may be dramatically altered. In joint legal custody arrangements, the parent who is the primary physical custodian may relocate with the child but must file a move-away petition with the court. The petition must outline the reasons for the move and the parent who does not have primary physical custody may dispute the petition. A judge will then issue a ruling about whether the move is in the child's best interests. If it is not, the primary custodian cannot move with the child. In joint physical custody arrangements, either parent can petition to move with the child. However, joint custody must be preserved. Judges often issue new parenting plans in these situations that preserve parental rights while still allowing the move. For example, one parent might have the child during the summer while the other parent might have the child during the school year.
Sole Custody Relocation
There are no laws in California prohibiting a parent with sole physical custody from relocating. However, custody orders and parenting plans may have specific provisions prohibiting or limiting relocation. Parents should follow the dictates of their custody agreement. If there is not a provision covering relocation, the parent must file a move-away petition with the court, particularly if the other parent objects to the move. In most cases, a judge will grant the petition because the custodial parent's move is unlikely to dramatically alter the child's life. However, the judge may enter an order protecting the other parent's visitation rights; the parent who moves may be responsible for covering the expenses of allowing the child to visit the non-custodial parent.