Child custody is one of the most emotionally difficult issues that most couples will face in a divorce. It can be difficult, even in the best of circumstances, to arrive at a custody arrangement that works well for your family, even without any complicating factors. One truth about life, though, is that circumstances can change quickly – circumstances that might require changes to even the most ideal of custody arrangements. Today, perhaps more than ever, relocation is one of those circumstances.
There are any number of situations that can prompt one (or both) parents to relocate. Perhaps one parent receives a promotion or a new job offer that’s simply too good to turn down. Maybe one parent falls in love, but the person lives across the country. It could be that a family member unexpectedly gets sick, and one parent decides to relocate to help take care of that person. Regardless of the particular circumstances, the opportunity to relocate arises fairly often. When you have children, and an existing custody arrangement in place, when this circumstance arises, it’s important to think carefully about how to handle it.
As you consider the possibility of relocating, you may wonder – how exactly might it affect the custody arrangement that you have with your co-parent? How accepting (or resistant) might your ex-spouse be regarding your move? What impact will the relocation have on the amount of time you can spend with your children – and on their emotional and mental health? All of these questions are important ones to ask, and as with any circumstances in life, it’s impossible to predict the future. What you can do, however, is try to prepare your children, and work cooperatively with your co-parent toward ensuring that the relocation process goes as smoothly as possible for everyone involved.
Practically speaking, then, what does this look like? Certainly, every circumstance will be different, and every family’s custody arrangement is unique. As a result, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution when one parent decides to relocate. Regardless of your circumstances or arrangement, however, if you want to relocate with your children, or if you want to relocate and have shared custody and/or visitation with your children in your new location, your first step should always be to consult with your ex-spouse.
While this may be a difficult conversation, as with any conversation of this nature, it is important to remain calm, open to questions, and display a willingness to listen and see your ex-spouse’s point of view. Thoroughly explain the reasons for your intended relocation, as well as your desire to remain actively involved in your child’s life. If you are able to do so in a calm and rational way, your ex-spouse may be understanding, and might agree to modify your existing custody agreement in a way that better fits your new circumstances and intended relocation. If you’re both on the same page, you have the freedom to modify any custody arrangement that you voluntarily entered into as you choose, and you may can make new arrangements regarding custody that better suit your lives and circumstances with the relocation in mind.
One generally sound piece of advice that we can also provide is that regardless of the custody arrangement you have, whether it’s an agreement or a court order, you must follow its terms until the other parent agrees to a change, or until the court orders one. Failing to do so is not only disruptive and detrimental to your children – it can also give the other parent an opportunity to argue that you are in violation of your custody agreement or in contempt of a court order. Courts generally frown on both. Following a divorce, you may need the future intervention of the court in any number of ways, and quite simply stated, you do not want the court to view you as someone with a lack of respect for authority and a willingness to follow the rules.
While renegotiating your custody agreement or returning to court to seek a modification might seem time-consuming and tedious, it’s absolutely necessary. All too often, those parents who decide to make a move without the express consent of the co-parent find themselves in contempt of court, and may also find themselves facing an ex parte custody action filed by their co-parent. This is an action in which one parent alleges that the other parent has removed the child from his or her home state without permission. If an order is granted, as a mechanism of enforcing the order, the co-parent would be able to enlist the help of law enforcement to retrieve the child. Needless to say, this is simply not a situation in which you want to find yourself involved.
You may find yourself wondering – what if I talk to my ex-spouse, and he or she simply doesn’t agree to my relocation, or to modifying the custody order? If this is the case, regardless of whether a court made the initial custody determination in your case or not, your only viable option is to file an action asking the court to decide the issue for you. Under no circumstances should you move away with your children if you have not either received the express written agreement of the other parent and a modification of the existing agreement, or unless a court enters an order which gives you the authority to do so.
If relocation is an issue that you are facing, or that you believe you might face in the future, it is always a wise choice to discuss your intended relocation thoroughly with your attorney prior to taking any action that could have long-term effects on your children and on your existing custody arrangement. Without question, jobs, relationships, and ailing family members are important – but as with anything important in life, it’s important to take the right steps to ensure that you’ve addressed all legal consequences that might arise from your move before you make it.
If you need to speak with an experienced child custody lawyer in Huntersville, NC, contact Adkins Law to arrange a consultation with a family law attorney.