Can I relocate with my child?

Especially since we live in an area with a large military population, relocation is a big issue in divorce and custody cases. We have lots of women here just because this is where their husbands were stationed. They have no particular attachment to the area, and their entire family support system is somewhere else. When the marriage starts to fall apart, it’s only natural that these women want to return home. Without a husband tying them to an area and a specific military career, they feel no attachment to the area whatsoever.

Still, it is very, very difficult to win a relocation case. The court doesn’t like to remove kids from their home. I’ve seen it happen, but only in a very few cases. The reason is that the court is looking at the best interests of the child factors. The court tends to think that the harm to the child in removing him from his normal surroundings (his home, his school, his activities) and his dad is strongly outweighed by any advantage that mom could provide in a different location (including increased economic opportunities or a bolstered extended family support system).

There’s no good answer. It’s unfair to mom to have to live in a place where she has no friends, no family, and, now, no husband, but it’s also unfair to dad to have his child relocated to a place where he can’t be an active participant in the child’s upbringing. It’s unfair to the child, most of all, to be put in the middle of this geographical tug-o-war. It is the child’s perspective that the court uses to determine the way custody will be handled.

Before you remove your child from his home, consider whether you’re really willing to commit to life the way it would be if you and your child’s father lived in different places. Visitation probably wouldn’t be every other weekend and two weeks in the summer. If your child’s father asked for six, eight, or even ten weeks in the summer, the court could realistically award it. I’ve even seen cases where the child got more holidays with the noncustodial parent than with the custodial parent, because visitation is so much easier when the child also has a break from school. If your child’s father is fighting for shared custody, too, expect the child to spend a large chunk of the time with dad. You may also be required to oversee Skype visitation between the child and his father.

Additionally, it is common to require the parent who relocated to pay the travel costs of the child. Depending on how far away, and how old the child is (he may need someone to travel with him), this can be prohibitively expensive.

Occasionally, relocation cases are successful. Still, it may not be the total win that you think it is. Before you relocate, consider whether it would really be in your best interest and, most importantly, in the best interests of the child.

If you’re afraid that he may relocate with the child without your permission, read my blog, “How to Avoid Drama when your Child’s Father Relocates.” Make sure that you really consider what it would be like to coparent with your child's father, including what custody and visitation might look like, if you choose to relocate. It's a good idea to think about these things now, before you make any big choices.

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