Relocating (moving away) with your child
Generally, a parent can change where a child lives if:
- It won't interfere with the current orders for custody and visitation (parenting time)
- They've let the other parent know about the change (given notice)
If a parent wants to relocate a child’s home to a place that is far away and interferes with the custody and visitation order, the parent may need to ask for a court order before the child can move with that parent. This is called a relocation case but is also known as a move-away case.
When will a judge allow a child to relocate with a parent?
A parent with a sole physical custody order is more likely to be able to move with the child
To make a decision, the judge will first consider
- Whether the parent wanting to move has sole or joint physical custody of the child
- Whether the physical custody order is a "permanent order"
In general, a custody order is permanent if it was made as part of your judgment (the final papers that ended your case).
Typically, if there is a permanent custody order, the judge will
- Allow a parent with sole physical custody to move away with the child unless the other parent can show that moving away would harm the child
- Not allow a parent with joint physical custody to move away with the child unless that parent can show moving away is in the child's best interest
Other factors will impact the judge's decision
Judges make decisions in the best interest of the child. Knowing whether a parent has sole or joint physical custody is a starting point. A judge will also consider other factors, like
The distance of the move
A longer distance move may make it hard (and expensive) for the child to see both parents regularly.
Current custody arrangement
The judge will look at the custody order. They will also consider what time the child actually spends with each parent if it's different than the order says and the child's relationship with each parent.
The relationship between the parents
A judge can consider the co-parenting relationship. Do the parents talk badly about one another in front of the child? Do they allow the other parent to have access to or contact with the child (following the court order)?
The child's age
A move at a younger age can impact a child differently than an older child. Sometimes, for an older and mature child, the judge may ask a counselor to talk with a child to find out what they want.
Each case is different. Talk to a family law lawyer for advice about your situation.
What if I or the other parent wants to move with the child?
If the other parent says they want to move away with your child, there are ways to protect your rights or ask the court to get involved if you don't agree. If you want to move away with your child, you have certain requirements you must follow that are usually based on your existing custody orders.
Consider a parenting plan that protects your rights
Talk to a lawyer before you make a parenting plan or any custody agreement. For example, a parenting plan could include when a parent must let the other parent know about a planned move. Or, how far away a move can be before you need the other parent to agree.
Parenting plans can also include specific arrangements for continued contact with the parent who is not moving so that parent can still have quality time with your children. These can include contact through e-mail and "virtual visitation".
If you already have a child custody and visitation order or a judgment, review it to see what orders your child's other parent must follow to relocate your child far away from their current home.
Follow any rules in your judgment or custody order
Review what's in any judgment or order about child custody or visitation. These orders often state what you and the other parent must do if either of you want to move away with your child. For example, the orders may say
- You must give the other parent (and their lawyer) written notice of your plans to move at least 45 days before the day you plan to move.
- A parent can only move a certain distance away without the other parent's written agreement that is agreed by the court.
Check your judgment so you know what rules you need to follow or what the other parent is supposed to do.
If you and the other parent cannot reach an agreement about changing a judgment or order to allow the child to relocate, or you think the move is not in your child’s best interests, you'll usually need to ask the court for a hearing date so the judge can decide. Get step-by-step instructions on how to file a request.
These types of situations often take a lot of time to resolve in court, so file your request well before any plans to move.
Talk to a lawyer or Self-Help Center to find out more about how to file papers to ask for a relocation order.
Think about what visitation schedule you might want and what's best for your child. What's best often depends on
- Your child's age
- Your child's relationship with you and the other parent
- The distance between where you and the other parent will live
Also, consider who will pay for the costs of transportation and visitation. There are resources that can help you figure out what plans and schedules work for children of different ages.
If the move is out of state, before you write your agreement, talk to a lawyer who has experience working with parents who live in different states. This type of lawyer can, for example, advise you on what to put in the agreement so it is clear which state court will have the power to make changes to the judgment or orders for child custody and visitation after the child moves out of California.