The pandemic has caused many individuals and families to seek alternative living and working arrangements. For families with young children, this may mean moving to a new location to find a better cost of living and work-life balance. However, this may complicate custody orders for divorced families.
California’s laws governing move-away cases are complicated and have evolved over the past few decades. Generally, a parent can only relocate with the child if they have the other parent’s consent or a court order.
The burden of proof shifts depending on the percentage of time the child spends with each parent. The parent who wishes to relocate typically has to persuade the judge that the move is in the child’s best interests and will not frustrate the other parent’s relationship with the child unless the non-custodial parent has less than 25% time with the child. In that case, it is the parent’s burden to convince the court that the move would not be in the child’s best interests.
A landmark 2004 case, Marriage of LaMusga, set a key precedent regarding what factors a judge must consider when deciding whether to grant or deny a move-away request. These factors include the reason for the move, the child’s age, the current custody arrangement, the distance of the move, the parent’s relationship with each other, the child’s relationship to each parent, the child’s wishes, the child’s ties to the community, and the child’s health and education.
Before going to court, engaging in mediation can help avoid a lengthy and expensive court battle. If a client is considering a relocation, they should begin an open discussion with the other parent by explaining their reasoning and inviting thoughts. They should communicate in writing and keep detailed records of all exchanges. If the ex-spouses can cooperate to agree on relocation and custody/visitation changes they can enter a stipulation, which, if approved, will be signed by the judge and become the new court order. However, if they cannot agree, filing a motion with the court and appearing at a hearing may be necessary.
For unmarried or separated parents, both parents have equal custodial rights if no order is in place. Though technically nothing prevents one parent from relocating with the child, concealing the child from the other parent or preventing contact is illegal. Therefore, securing a court order and putting a visitation schedule before moving any distance with a child is essential.
Post-pandemic relocations may complicate custody orders for divorced families. Understanding the laws governing move-away cases and the factors a judge considers when deciding whether to grant or deny a move-away request is essential. Engaging in mediation and entering a stipulation can save time and money. For unmarried or separated parents, securing a court order and putting a visitation schedule before moving any distance with a child is essential to prevent legal issues.
Schoenberg Family Law Group’s attorneys are uniquely qualified to handle high-stakes, high-conflict child custody matters. With their exceptional legal expertise, professional and competent staff, and a track record of successful outcomes, they have the necessary experience to guide clients through complex family law issues that involve custody disputes. They understand the intricacies of the legal system and are committed to advocating for their client’s rights and interests.
By Debra Schoenberg