Child Custody and Relocation

Divorces can be a difficult and messy time in your life, especially if children are involved in the agreements. With children, you and your former spouse are not only dividing your assets – you are making decisions on the care, financial support, and future of your children. If one spouse decides to relocate after the divorce, what happens to the existing custody agreement?

How Does Custody Work in California?

When you seek a divorce in California and you have children, you and your spouse will have to decide where your children will live and how your visitation rights will work. If you cannot come to an agreement, a judge will step in and make that decision for you based on your child’s best interest. The custody agreement will take your family’s dynamics, needs, and circumstances into account.

Custody determines which parent will take physical custody of the child, or where the child lives. In addition, the agreement will outline who has legal custody, or the right to make decisions on your child’s behalf. You will also create a visitation schedule to see your child. You and your spouse can share both forms of custody or you can share different responsibilities, such as one spouse having sole physical custody and sharing legal custody.

The state can name one parent as the custodial parent in the legal paperwork – which gives this parent an advantage during relocation proceedings. However, noncustodial parents who move away can claim rights to their children if they meet certain circumstances.

California Custodial Relocation Laws

Under California’s relocation laws, custodial parents retain the right to move neighborhoods or change residence with the child as long as the move does not impact the child’s best interests or interfere with his or her rights. If your spouse is the custodial parent and intends to relocate for more than 30 days, he or she must give you written notice at least 45 days prior to the move. You can file an objection to the relocation and ask the court for a new custody or visitation agreement. You and your spouse will have to draft new agreements even if you do not object to the move.

What Happens in a Relocation Hearing?

When a noncustodial parent objects to a relocation of his or her child, the court will hold a relocation hearing to determine if the move protects the child’s rights and would not interfere with his or her best interests. You can request a change in custody as the noncustodial parent in situations where the move would have a severe and negative impact on the child. However, the judge would not automatically grant you custody if the move would be hard on the child.

To determine if a move would be detrimental to a child or would interrupt his or her rights or best interests, the judge will examine a number of factors. If you are the noncustodial parent, you could receive a change in custody if the judge determines that it is appropriate based on the following considerations.

  • How far the move would be from your child’s former home
  • Your child’s relationship with you and your spouse
  • You and your spouse’s relationship and communication ability
  • Why your spouse wants to move
  • If the move would harm your relationship with your child
  • Your child’s need for consistency and stability in his or her life
  • If your child will suffer any harm as a result of a custody change
  • If your child’s emotional, educational, and physical needs will feel an impact due to the move
  • If the move would harm your child’s relationship to extended family in the community or would benefit relationships in the new community
  • Any other factor the judge may deem relevant to your child’s rights and best interests

When it comes to divorce, doing what is best for your children is one of your top priorities. If you need assistance advocating for your needs and the rights of your children during your divorce, contact a California family law attorney as soon as possible.