A common concern during and after divorce is wondering what happens if one parent moves to a different state or country. Many factors are involved, and the issues are not always straightforward.
There are many reasons why one parent may need to move. Employment can be easier to locate in a different state. A film industry technician living in Rhode Island may have brighter career opportunities in New York or California. The military can deploy a parent to another country for a time. Other divorced parents may desire the emotional support of living near out-of-state friends or family.
Child custody matters
If a parent has sole permanent physical custody of the children, that parent can generally take the children, even if the other spouse disagrees; however, in a dispute, the court can decide that current living conditions are more persuasive than the original divorce decree. If it turns out that the noncustodial parent is, in reality, taking care of the children most of the time, the court may overrule the custodial parent's desire to relocate them.
Even when parents who hold joint custody are in agreement, the court will decide if children should move away with one of the parents. If a parent is adamant that the children remain where they are, the relocating parent must convince the court that it would not hurt the children's interests to relocate.
In some cases, a parent may only wish to move an hour or two away, and visitation will not be an issue. If the other spouse is willing and financially able to travel long distances to maintain a visitation schedule in the best interests of the children, the court may agree to the move. The court will follow the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act in matters when one parent has already moved to a different state.
Legal documentation matters
Many elements of the process need legal documentation and court filing. Without these safeguards in place, a parent who moves with the children could be guilty of kidnapping if the other parent suddenly decides the arrangement is not working out.