Courts take very seriously relocation cases. As these cases can involve moving a child from their school, friends, relatives and the home they may have lived in, possibly their entire lives, a parent must ask themselves, “can I win my relocation case?” In this blog I examine a few of the important considerations in any relocation case.
Best Interest Factors
Between two parents the court will always look to the best interest factors in determining whether to allow any changes to a custody or visitation order. Those best interest factors are outlined in Virginia Code 20-124.3. Some of the important factors for a relocation case are the relationship between each parent and child; the needs of the child, including the relationships of the child with siblings, peers, and extended family members; the role each parent has played and will play in the future, in the upbringing and care of the child; and the propensity of each parent to actively support the child’s contact and relationship with the other parent; among other factors. The best interest factors are the outline of what Courts will use in determining whether to allow relocation.
The Role of Each Parent
The Role of Each Parent is one of the important factors under the best interest factors. In regards to a relocation case, it is a question as to which parent has been the custodial parent, or the parent with visitation? If the parties have shared custody, what role has each of the parents played in the day to day lives of the child, or children? By relocating will one parent be substantially deprived of their current role as either a shared custodian, or their regular visitation? If a relocation will substantially effect a parents time with a child, or completely alter what the child has known as the role of each parent, then courts will carefully examine the other factors before making a decision.
Schools are Rarely a Deciding Factor
While we all want our children to attend the very best schools available to them, and though one parent may live in a jurisdiction with higher ranked schools than the other, the school a child would attend is rarely a deciding factor. I often meet with parents considering relocation who have spent an extensive amount of time researching and comparing the school in what would be the new district versus the schools in their current district. From a courts perspective, the ranking of schools change from year to year, teachers come and go, programs are altered, and Courts are reluctant to put much weight in rankings and comparisons for schools, at least when it comes to relocation. Ultimately, education and where the child attends is up to the custodial parent and this will not be much of a deciding factor for the court.
When Relocation is Required for Employment
Relocation that is required for a parent to maintain their employment can often be the strongest basis for granting relocation. If a custodial parent has no choice but to move or lose their job, a court will strongly favor relocation. The court will not ignore things like siblings, extended family, friendships, and the the littany of best interest factors, but it is difficult for the court to rule against a parent who has no choice in where they live. That being said, if a parent is moving with the hope of better employment, that will never be sufficient for the court. Court disfavor hypotheticals, but give due consideration to concrete evidence. The desire for better employment, or the possibility of a promotion, are not enough for the courts. A parent must be obligated to move for their job, and if this is the case, this can be a strong factor in favor of allowing the relocation with changes to the non-custodial parents visitation.
In this blog I examined just a few of the things which a court will consider in determining whether to allow a custodial parent to relocate. The courts will always look to the best interest factors as outlined by the Virginia Code. One of the important factors is the role each parent has played previously. Often comparing schools will carry little weight, but if a parent is required to move for employment, this can play a large part in the courts determination. If you are considering a relocation case, or amending your current custody order, please contact an attorney to assist you in determining whether a court would allow relocation. The author of this blog, Brandon C. Waltrip, Esq., who specializes in child custody cases.