The issue of moving children out of state either before or after your marriage ends is such a hot button that the federal government has drafted legislation to address it. The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act regulates which state has jurisdiction over custody issues if a child moves. States have their own individual laws as well. Although they vary to some extent, you generally can’t move with your kids across a state line without the express written consent of the other parent or a court order.
Some states specifically prohibit moving your child across state lines and others base their laws on geographic distance. For example, if you live in Wisconsin, you can’t relocate your child more than 149 miles away from his other parent’s home. In either case, you must either have the written consent of the other parent or file a motion asking the court to allow you to move. If your child’s other parent strenuously objects, this could require a full-blown trial. Generally, you would have the burden of proof to convince the court that your child will benefit from the move.
Whether your move is 150 miles away or five miles across the state line from New Jersey to Pennsylvania, the court is likely to disallow it if you don't have a good reason and if it grossly interferes with your child’s relationship with his other parent. For example, if he has historically enjoyed visitation with his other parent every weekend, and if you move from New Jersey to California, the move would probably diminish their relationship to a very great extent. Your child might only see his other parent for a few weeks in the summer and on extended school breaks; he’d lose close, frequent contact with him. If you want to move only 40 miles across a state line, the court would be more likely permit the move because it would not have such a great effect on the parent/child relationship. Likewise, if your custody arrangement is such that your child only sees his other parent once a month, a long-distance move would have less of an effect on their relationship.
Burden of Proof
The parent who wants to move generally has the burden of proof to convince a judge that it will benefit the child. This is difficult, but not impossible. If your move is to accept a job where you’ll earn an additional $50,000 a year, that would benefit your child. If you want to move to Florida because you enjoy the beach, the move benefits you, not your child, and a judge would probably rule against it. You can increase your odds of success if you can show the court how and why your child will be better off after the move. You’re also more likely to receive court approval if you can provide a detailed schedule showing how your child and his other parent can maintain close contact despite the move.
The more positive information you can give the court regarding your child’s new neighborhood, the more likely it is that the court will approve your move. Provide documented information regarding his new school and any social activities that will be available to him. If you’re successful with your motion to the court, and if you move some distance away, be prepared to foot the bill for your child’s travel expenses to visit his other parent. Most judges will require this of you.
References & Resources
- DivorceNet.com: Relocation Out of State With a Child During or After a Divorce
- Lawyers.com: Divorce – Child Custody FAQ
- Minnesota Lawyers: Relocating Out of State With a Child
- Bloomgren Hanson Legal: Divorce Myths: Moving Out-of-State With Children; January 2011
- U.S. Department of Justice; The Uniform Child-Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act; Patricia M. Hoff (PDF)
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