Determinations of child custody can be bitterly fought in family courts throughout the US, and many parents struggle to cope with custody orders they believe to be unfair or one-sided. Unfortunately, it’s also possible for parents to handle their custody obligations effectively for quite a while, only for unexpected issues to arise, compelling the parents back to family court to resolve them. One of the most commonly reported issues is relocation. A parent may wish to relocate to move closer to extended relatives, pursue a new career, or enable their child to attend better schools.

When a parent has a custody order and wants to relocate, they will likely need to have their move approved by a family court judge. Whether they intend to move with their child or leave the child with their other parent, the relocation will influence their custody order in some fashion. A family court judge must carefully review the situation to determine whether the relocating parent’s proposed solution aligns with the child’s best interests. The other parent could attempt to fight against the relocation or respond to the relocation request by making a case that they should assume majority custody of the child instead.

Requirements for Relocation With a Custody Order

It’s possible for parents with family court orders to revisit these orders in light of unexpected life events. For example, parents with a custody order may need to revise the terms of the order if they learn their child has a medical condition or other special needs that weren’t previously considered. In some of these cases, parents require simple, reasonable, and necessary changes to their family court orders, and all parties involved can recognize the need for such changes without contest. However, in other cases, disputes can arise, and both parties will need to prepare for a complex hearing to resolve the issue.

Relocation can easily become a vehemently contested issue for divorced or unmarried parents with custody orders. For example, the parent who intends to relocate may want to bring their child with them, making it very difficult for the other parent to exercise their own custody rights. In this situation, the relocating parent would need to prove to a family court judge that the benefits of moving are more critical than the other parent’s loss of custody rights. In these cases, judges must use the determining factor of the child’s best interests.

The other parent would need to prove that the relocation would be detrimental to the child’s interests or that remaining with them would be more suitable for the child’s needs. The parent who intends to relocate must also meet a few procedural requirements, including notifying the other parent of their intentions to relocate and providing written notice to the court. If a custodial parent fails to provide such notice or relocates with their child without the court’s approval, they face severe criminal penalties and loss of their parental rights.

A custody order will need to be revised if the relocation would place any undue burden on the non-relocating parent’s ability to exercise their custody rights. This can essentially require a complete renegotiation of the custody order taking the relocating parent’s new residence into consideration. It’s possible for the parent who intends to relocate to succeed in retaining custody. Otherwise, they may need to choose between relocating and granting custody to their co-parent or deciding against following through with their intended move.

What Is Modification?

The modification system is unique to family law. Unlike a complex appeal process that seeks to overturn a previous court ruling, modification simply seeks reasonable changes to standing court orders. If you have a custody order and have recently experienced any life event that materially impacts your custody agreement, you may need to file a petition for modification to keep your agreement tenable into the future.

Modification is a relatively straightforward process. First, the party who needs the modification must file a petition with the family court explaining their requested changes and their justifications for why these changes are necessary. Next, the court reviews the petition and assigns a hearing date. At this hearing, all parties involved in the order have the right to speak on the issue.

The judge overseeing a modification petition may deem the request perfectly reasonable. If the other party does not contest it, the judge could immediately approve the petition. Petitions regarding relocation are rarely granted easily, however. Parents often make compelling conflicting cases for and against relocation, and a judge may also wish to hear from the children affected by the change.

Ultimately, the best way to approach any modification of a family court order is with the help of an attorney. Your legal team can help you make a compelling case on either side of the petition. For example, whether you must prove that your desired relocation would provide your child with more opportunities and a better standard of living, or you need to contest your co-parent’s intended relocation, an experienced attorney is the best resource.

Penalties for Violation of Family Court Orders

If you intended to petition for relocation with a custody order and your request was denied, or if you tried to fight your co-parent’s relocation request, but a judge approved it, your situation can feel hopeless and incredibly distressing. However, you may have many more legal options for addressing the situation than you realize. If you intentionally violate a family court order, no matter what your intentions for doing so may be, you risk severe penalties. You could face fines, jail time, or even loss of your parental rights.

When you disagree with a decision made by a family court judge, the modification and appeals processes are the best options for resolving the issue. You should never willingly violate a custody order, even if you believe doing so would be in your child’s best interests. If you are facing any difficult situation regarding relocation with a custody order, speak with an experienced family lawyer. The right attorney can ensure the best possible outcome for your situation.