The price of relocation

Posted Friday, April 7th, 2017 by Gregory Forman
Filed under Attorney-Client Relations, Child Custody, Not South Carolina Specific, Of Interest to Family Court Litigants, Of Interest to Family Law Attorneys

When custodial parents relocate, the non-custodial parent almost always suffers. Typically they lose the frequent contact with the minor child that helps sustain most parent-child relationships. The ability of the non-custodial parent to observe or participate in the child’s school and extracurricular activities greatly diminishes. When a child lives hundreds of miles away, midweek visitation ends and weekend visitation becomes harder–if only because of the significant travel imposed. When the child lives even further away, weekend visitation diminishes to occasional weekends when the non-custodial parent can travel to the area where the child resides.

However, the family court will rarely impose the burdens of relocation on a non-custodial parent without offering some benefits. Typically these benefits include more time during summer and every, rather than every-other, spring break. Sometimes these parents will get a break on child support due to the increased travel expenses. Because weekend visitation will now often require the non-custodial parent to take a few days off of work and travel to the custodial parent’s location (and budget for meals and housing) the family court will grant the non-custodial parent flexibility in choosing visitation weekends. Knowing this, custodial parents–or at least their attorneys–will often offer more time at summer, more flexibility on weekend visitation, and a reduction in child support as an inducement for the non-custodial parent to agree to the relocation.

The new status quo after the relocation rarely leaves non-custodial parents happy: they didn’t propose or desire the relocation and any concessions gained to obtain their consent to the relocation rarely outweigh the loss in their relationship with the child. Yet, from my experience in representing both custodial and non-custodial parents after such relocations, the custodial parent is often equally unhappy. Their perception is that they shouldn’t have had to give up anything to obtain permission to relocate and they frequently complain about the other parent’s reduced child support obligation, extensive summer visitation, and flexibility in choosing weekends to visit.

When custodial parents are unhappy with these visitation concessions, they often find ways to sabotage the non-custodial parent’s visitation. I am often retained by non-custodial parents to enforce visitation provisions that the custodial parent granted as a condition to relocation but which they are not happy about. Some of my most successful contempt proceedings have involved custodial parents searching for reasons to deny the extended summer and holiday visitation that is typically part of a relocation agreement, or seeking to impose conditions on what is supposed to be flexibility in the non-custodial parent’s right to select weekends to visit. The family court, seeing clearly that the custodial parent is seeking justifications to limit what is already a limited visitation schedule, rarely hesitates to sanction these visitation-denying custodial parents. In my experience, these cases are the ones in which the court is most likely to impose criminal contempt sanctions on custodial parents.

It is human nature to fret about what we have lost rather than to treasure what we have gained. That relocating custodial parents complain about the concessions they have made to obtain the relocation isn’t surprising. However, most often, the best counsel that an attorney can provide such parents when they complain about the new visitation schedule is that it was “the price of relocation” and that they should live with it and learn to accept it.

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