Joint custody is an arrangement in which both parents remain involved in their child's life. As a result, courts are more likely than ever before to grant either physical or legal joint custody. Moving out of state can complicate joint custody arrangements and a parent may need a court's permission for the move. Some parenting plans establish a specific procedure for the parent to follow.
Physical Vs. Legal
Many people believe that joint custody means each parent has equal time with the child, but time is shared only in joint physical custody agreements. In joint legal custody, one parent may provide the child's primary residence, but both parents have equal say in decisions regarding the child. When one parent moves, joint legal custody is much easier to maintain than joint physical custody.
In most states, one divorced parent must notify the other well in advance of the move if she wishes to leave the state. Many states allow the parent who is not moving to request a hearing about the move. A judge will hear evidence about whether the move is in the child's best interest and may either authorize the move or deny it. If the move is denied, the parent who wishes to move can still move, but may not be permitted to take the child with her. If the move is authorized, the judge will typically alter the custody arrangement so the child still has time with the other parent.
Maintaining Joint Custody
When one parent moves, the child's physical time with the other parent can be severely compromised. Judges typically try to find a practical way to maintain the relationship. For example, the child may spend summers with the parent who did not move. The new custody order may also require the parents to foster frequent communication after the move. In joint legal custody arrangements, a move will not affect decision-making authority; thus, both parents must still participate in making decisions about the child.
Effect on Child
Moving can be difficult for children, even when they live with both of their parents, as it often takes time for a child to adjust to a move. The stress of a move becomes worse when a child is taken away from the parent with whom she has the most frequent contact. Therefore, parents should avoid moving far away from the other parent unless absolutely necessary.