In my 20+ years of family law practice, I’ve yet to see a relocation case in which the requested relocation was solely for the child’s benefit and at the inconvenience of the custodial parent. I’m not sure how a family court judge would react to a non-custodial parent who opposed a relocation that was based on a child’s health needs or vocational interests (assuming the judge believed this was the true reason the relocation was requested) but I assume it would not be favorable.
The relocation requests I see being made are primarily to convenience the custodial parent. Typically these parents (re)marry and they want to move where their new spouse lives or is moving, or want to move for work or to be closer to their family or other support network. The benefits of such relocations for the child are ancillary–the child’s life is improved because the custodial parent has access to more resources or a more stable home life.
In weighing the pros and cons of such relocations, the family court has to balance these benefits against the detriments to the minor child’s relationship with the non-custodial parent. If the child doesn’t have much of a relationship with the non-custodial parent there really isn’t much to balance: the court can simply give the non-custodial parent more time in summer to compensate for less time in the school year.
However if the non-custodial parent is actively involved and a consistent and positive presence in the child’s life, it becomes much harder for the court to fashion a remedy that allows the relocation while maintaining the child’s relationship with the non-custodial parent. It is simply impossible to fashion such remedies if the non-custodial parent is actively involved in the child’s school or extracurricular activities, or has regularly exercised mid-week visitation and therefore rarely goes more than a few days without seeing the child. In such cases, for the family court to authorize the relocation, it must accept that the child’s relationship with the non-custodial parent will be significantly diminished. A custodial parent proposing such a relocation will have an extremely high burden convincing a court that the relocation benefits the child.
When representing non-custodial parents in custody cases, they will often ask me near the end of their case what they can do to prevent the other parent from attempting to relocate with the child. I tell these parents, “be an active, constant, and positive presence in your child’s life.” When they’ve heeded this advice, it’s typically been easy to shut down relocation attempts. When they haven’t, I’ve typically been negotiating the terms of surrender when a relocation is requested.
Non-custodial parents who want to minimize the chances that the custodial parent will relocate should be proactive. Maintaining a strong, positive and consistent relationship with their child is the simplest and surest way to stop relocations. Demonstrating concern only after the relocation is requested is typically an ineffective strategy.