Common Coparenting Issues: Coparenting After Relocation

Posted on Mar 11, 2024 by Katie Carter

Relocation is often a big issue in divorce and custody cases.  It’s not limited to moms or even dads; it happens pretty frequently that, wherever you happened to reside when the marriage began to fall apart at the seams, one (or both) of you would prefer to live somewhere else.  Especially when your marriage is ending, it’s natural to look at other means of supporting yourself, whether financially, socially, or emotionally.  Maybe you want to move for a better job; maybe, instead, you want to be closer to family and your wider support network.

Or maybe HE wants to move.  Maybe he’s military, and he gets permanent orders to another duty station.  Maybe he wants to move closer to friends or family.  Maybe he gets another job offer entirely.  The same things that can impact your desire to move away can also impact his.

Can I relocate?

The bigger question – CAN you relocate – is often a tricky one.  Parents often relocate by agreement.  Otherwise, the only alternative is either to litigate and let the judge decide or to move without a court order and hope for the best.

In any case, it’s a pretty risky maneuver.  Without your child’s other parent’s approval, you run the risk of either the judge refusing to allow you to relocate or, in a worst case scenario, an ex parte emergency hearing where the judge orders you to return the children to the state.  Some people do still choose to leave and hope for the best, assuming that their child’s father won’t take the initiative to file or won’t have money to do so, but it’s a big risk.

Generally speaking, moving constitutes relocation in the event that it would be difficult to maintain your current custody arrangement.  Unless and until you have a custody order or agreement in place, it’s typically not considered a relocation – but it would still be risky to just up and move.  (Talk to an attorney about your specific case and your options if you’re wondering.)

It’s not like, as long as you stay in Virginia, you’re fine.  Roanoke is, after all, very different from Virginia Beach.  Moving from one to the other would certainly constitute a relocation.  It’s all down to your custody arrangement and whether moving would disrupt it.  If you had, say, week on/week off custody and you have a school aged child, there’s no way to commute between Roanoke and Virginia Beach.

It’s also not about not moving outside of the state.  If you live in, say, Chesapeake, there are parts of North Carolina that are very close.  You could potentially move, if you could still exercise your current parenting plan, to North Carolina from Chesapeake.  In many cases, it would be minimally disruptive.  There are still factors to consider, like whether your child would have to switch schools, but its less likely to be majorly problematic.

Whether you can relocate, though, is a complex question and one you should discuss in detail with an attorney.

One of us has relocated – what now?

I often tell moms that relocation is one thing, but considering what it’ll do to your parenting plan and your options is another.  For many parents, especially ones that live at a considerable geographic distance, shared custody isn’t nearly as practical.  You can’t do week on/week off custody once children are school aged if you live far apart.

That often means that the non custodial parent – the parent who has the child less – ends up with more of the holiday time and/or summer vacation.  Is that not palatable to you?  It’s maybe something to consider.  It’s often hard for kids, too, especially as they get older, have established friend groups, and want to participate in sports or summer camp activities with their friends.  Over the course of their childhood, having two geographically distant parents can really disrupt their relationship with one parent or the other.  Maybe even both, depending on the specific facts.

Specific considerations for parents where relocation is an issue

If you or your child’s father are going to relocate, you’re going to want to put a lot of time and energy into your custody agreement.  We already talked about first rights of refusals and how unscrupulous coparents can try to turn poorly drafted provisions against their child’s other parent.  When it comes to relocation, it is equally important to consider the potential implications of your provision – and be incredibly detailed.

  1. Who pays for travel?

Depending on how far apart you live, travel to and from each parent’s house might amount to a considerable expense – both in terms of money and in terms of the amount of time involved.  In the olden days, we used to say that the relocating parent paid for travel; I’ve seen this sort of fall to the wayside in favor of more egalitarian policies that require that both parents contribute to some degree.  In an agreement, though, it’s totally up to you.  What might it cost?  How frequent would travel be?  Who should pay?  If you’re sharing costs, how will you determine what costs qualify and how, exactly, they will be shared?  If one overpays, how will you document the cost of the travel to each other, and how will repayment be made?  What is the deadline for repayment?  (Deadlines for repayment are always critical in provisions across the board!)

  1. How will travel be accomplished?

Depending on how far apart you live, this may dictate how travel must take place.  Will you drive the child back and forth?  Who does the driving?  Will you meet halfway?  Where?  (Visitation exchanges are often tense; consider, if applicable, meeting at a police station.)

If air travel is possible, who pays?  Will the child fly unaccompanied?  At what age is it appropriate for the child to fly unaccompanied?  What happens before that time?  Does a parent fly with?  Do you share that cost?  Be specific and set your expectations.

If the travel is international, you’ll also have passport considerations, just like if you were traveling for vacation.  Who holds the passport?  If you need to apply for one or renew one, what’s the time period and procedure for requesting that your child’s father participate?  Do you require proof of flights, contact information, or other itinerary-related information?  Be specific.

  1. How will you handle conflicting events?

Consider your holiday schedule, your travel needs, your child’s extracurriculars and other relationships.  How will these be impacted by the relocation?  Do you have specific concerns you want to address?  These types of parenting plans are often more inflexible because the non custodial parent already spends so much time without the child.  Does that mean you’ll never take a summer time vacation with your child?  That he’ll never be able to participate in summer camps or activities that his friend group will participate in?  What about summer school, if you child needs it?  Will you never be able to travel to see your parents for Christmas because of the limited amount of time you get before you have to send him to dad’s?

To the extent that you can write some important provisions in – maybe that he returns the child to you a week or two before school starts, so that you can plan a vacation or that you get a certain number of days over the Christmas holiday to travel to your parent’s (even that the child could, for example, fly to dad’s house from the grandparents?) – you can help avoid some of the issues associated with relocation.

Most of all, you want to have thought through what life is going to look like and what the particular pain points will be.  That’s difficult for me to do, in a vacuum, without knowing more about you, your child’s father, and the kid(s) you have in common.  It’s hard to do, too, without a crystal ball; knowing, for example, what might happen in any subsequent relationship or after any remarriages on either parent’s part.  There will be a lot of family needs to juggle and having a well-drafted agreement that takes all of the potential issues into consideration is going to be very helpful.

Consider, too, reading this article about planning travel with the child.  It was intended to be a guide for parents planning vacation travel, but many of the provisions can work well with relocating parents who require travel just to accomplish their basic parenting plan.

For more information or to schedule a consultation with one of our licensed and experienced Virginia divorce attorneys, or to learn more about relocation (whether military or civilian), visit our website at or give us a call at 757-425-5200.