Court Issues on Divorced Parents Moving to Separate States

by Valerie Stevens
Divorced parents must often have the other parent's consent or court approval to relocate.

Divorced parents must often have the other parent's consent or court approval to relocate.

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Divorced parents who move to separate states must cooperate with each other or they could become mired in an interstate custody battle. Family court matters are handled on the state level. When part of the family moves to another state, it is not always clear which state has jurisdiction over the family members. Legislation seeks to clarify matters, but the laws are confusing. Some parents end up rushing to get to the courthouse first when interstate custody issues heat up.

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Court Approval

A custodial parent who wants to move a child to a different state must have the consent of the non-custodial parent or win court approval. The standard by which U.S. courts makes decisions regarding minor children is “the best interests of the child.” That means that judges put more emphasis on the child’s benefit than the parent’s happiness. If the mother wants to move to a state where she has a better job or a better family support network, a judge might logically assume that the child will be better off in the new state. However, a mother’s desire to get away from her ex and start over might not be deemed a sufficient reason to uproot the child and physically separate the child from his father.


After one or both parents relocate to a new state, they might need to go back to court to seek changes in their custody arrangement. If a mother who has primary custody moves five states away, a father who has weekend visitation will probably want to adjust the schedule. Parents used to face confusion over which state court to ask for permission. If more than one state were to have jurisdiction over the child, parents could get embroiled in a legal mess of conflicting court orders. To avoid such chaos, almost every state has passed the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement. According to the UCCJEA, the state that originally ruled on a case maintains jurisdiction unless the states agree to transfer jurisdiction. The end result is that only one state can rule on changing the custody order.


When parents living in separate states need to go back to court, they have to return to the state where the custody order originated unless they petition the court to domesticate the order in the child's new home state. Generally, one of the parents files a petition to domesticate the out-of-state order when they have lived in the new state long enough. According to most state laws, the court has jurisdiction over any child that has been a resident of that state for at least six months. However, the UCCJEA gives the original state continuing jurisdiction so the states must agree to transfer jurisdiction to the new home state.

Child Support

Most custody rulings include orders for the non-custodial parent to pay child support to the custodial parent. However, in cases where there is no custody order, the custodial parent can seek child support from a parent who has moved to another state. The Uniform Interstate Family Support Act governs the establishment, modification and enforcement of child support across state lines. This act, which has been passed by all 50 states, helps courts decide which state has the authority to hear petitions for child support.