There is probably no other form of contested custody litigation that is as difficult, gut-wrenching and stressful to the parties, the lawyers and the court than a relocation case. So much rides on the court’s ruling, yet there seems to be no single, objective standard upon which a court will decide to allow, or disallow a move by the custodial parent. Each case is unique and decided on its own facts, so it is often difficult to predict the outcome by simply looking at what the appellate courts have done in other “move away” cases. In fact, the appellate courts have been notoriously inconsistent in their rulings.
There are, however, certain factors the courts will look at in making a decision. A judge is more likely to allow the move when it is required by compelling circumstances beyond the custodial parent’s control. For example, the move will often be allowed if the custodial parent has been transferred by his/her employer, or is in the military, or has pressing family matters (say, an ailing parent who needs daily care). On the other hand, the court is far more likely to disallow the relocation if the relocation is optional, solely for the convenience of the custodial parent, or the court suspects the primary purpose of the move is to keep the non-custodial parent away from the child. (This is particularly true if the parents have a long history of intense conflict with each other). The court is also more likely to disallow the move when the non-custodial has a substantial amount of parenting time with the child and the child has many extended family members (on either side) living nearby, especially if the child is bonded with these family members. The younger the child, the more difficult it is to establish a workable long-distance parenting plan, especially if the child is an infant or toddler. But it is also true that the current economy places an enormous financial strain on many unemployed or under-employed custodial parents, often compelling them to pull up stakes and take jobs in places they would never had considered before.