Moving with your husband when your marriage is on the rocks

It’s not uncommon, over the course of a marriage, for one spouse to receive a job offer that turns things upside down. It seems like a no brainer to accept a change when it might mean a completely different financial future for your family.

Of course, that’s not to say it’s easy. You may be leaving a job of your own, or uprooting your children from a school where they’re doing well. Your family may be close to where you are now, and you may wonder about your ability to make new friends in a new place. Even little things — like not knowing where, for example, the closest Target is — can seem like a big deal when you’re already overstimulated and overwhelmed.

And that’s not even taking into account the actual physical act of moving!

When you marriage is already on the rocks, it’s an even more difficult scenario. Do you REALLY want to pack it all up and move for someone that you may very well end up divorcing anyway? It’s a complicated set of factors to weigh, and it’s important that you take the time to think about all of the potential problems and pitfalls you may face along the way.

As far as your divorce case is concerned, you might want to take stock of the laws in the state to which you would be moving, if you did go with your husband. Some states are more or less friendly about equitable distribution, pension and/or retirement sharing, and support. It may seem drastic to ask these questions now, but it’s a good idea — talk to a family law attorney in the area where you’re moving and ask. Maybe even talk to a family law attorney where you currently live, so you can get an idea of how the laws compare. If you’re living in or considering moving to Virginia, we have several free books that you can request to get an idea about how the laws apply to your situation here.

Don’t rely on your friends who were recently divorced or a nameless faceless internet search either. As difficult as it is to face the divorce that might happen, it would be even worse to face it with little to no idea what the laws actually are. The actual worst, though? Facing it with inaccurate or downright wrong information!

As far as custody is concerned, moving is a potential landmine type situation. Though I can only really speak for Virginia, my experience with custody cases is that the court is loathe to move a child from his or her home state just because one parent wants to relocate — even if he or she wants to relocate for better economic opportunities. I think you’re likely to find that if you stay and he goes, especially if he goes somewhere far enough to make sharing visitation on a week on/week off type of schedule difficult, you may very well be the primary physical custodian.

On the other hand, if you both go, you may find yourself at the whim of a new state’s custody laws (some states, for example, require an arrangement fairly close to 50/50) and essentially forced to stay there. Once you move to that new state, and the kids are there for 6 months, that state will have jurisdiction over the kids. If you try to move, you may bump into the same situation your husband would face above — if you’re the relocating parent, it’s much, much more difficult to get the kind of parenting time you might otherwise win.

Are you willing to risk the possibility that, in order to have shared or primary physical custody, you’ll have to stay in this new, unfamiliar place? Or would you rather stay where you are, if a divorce or custody case were ultimately headed your way?

Of course, telling your husband that you’re going to choose NOT to move might hasten the relationship to its end anyway — which may or may not be the result you’re going for. If you decide not to move, I encourage you to talk with your husband to a licensed marriage counselor, who can help you figure out whether the move is actually in both of your best interests.

I don’t know your husband like you do, so of course I defer to your judgment. But I don’t think it’s unreasonable to raise the divorce or custody issues you’ve discovered, and potentially even try to find a way to sidestep them. While you may want to agree ahead of time, for example, to a specific division of property rights should your marriage not survive, you will probably also find that something similar is not so much a possibility where custody is concerned. In every state, custody decisions are made based off of some kind of variation of the best interests of the child factors like we use in Virginia, and, in every state, these decisions are modifiable based on a material change in circumstances.

Why? Well, the court wants custody-related decisions to suit the children’s needs — which are evolving over time — and not so much the parent’s. It’s not about what’s best or most convenient for you; in most cases, in most courts, in most jurisdictions, its about maintaining normalcy and allowing the children to have as much contact with both parents as possible.

Before I was willing to move to an entirely new place, especially if my marriage was on the rocks, I would want to have answers to some basic questions about how divorce and custody cases are handled there. I’d want to really be able to have a conversation about advantages and disadvantages, as well as come up with (inasmuch as it is possible) with a plan for how to combat it.

You want to give your marriage room to thrive, especially if it’s on the rocks now. But you also need to act intelligently, systematically, and in a way that will protect both you and your children if the worst comes to pass. Hopefully, you’ll find that your move, wherever it might take you, brings you fulfillment and happiness. Hopefully, your marriage will survive.

But it’s never a bad idea to ask questions, get information, and be your own best advocate. Before making a big decision, it’s always smart to be informed.

Good luck.

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