Divorce Law

Know Before You Go: Moving Your Children Out of State After a Divorce

After a divorce, you may want to get a new start in a different town or even a different state. Moving out of state to a new home and starting a new job can help put your prior relationship in the past. However, when you have children with your former spouse, you may not be able to move out of state without getting permission from your ex or the court.

Picking up and moving can involve difficult decisions. There are plenty of reasons why you may want to move to another state after an ugly divorce. Common reasons for relocation include:

  • Moving to be closer to family
  • Financial issues
  • Starting a new job
  • Relatives can help with child care
  • A new town may be better for raising your child
  • Escaping domestic violence

When you share custody with the child's other parent, the child custody plan may limit your options for moving the minor children away on your own. Before deciding to move, make sure you understand your custody rights and obligations under state family law, so you can know what to expect and so that you do not do anything to endanger your custody agreement.

Child Custody Plan After Divorce

As part of the divorce process where parents have joint custody, a child custody plan will provide for parenting time, visitation rights, legal custody, parenting time schedule, and indicate which parent is the custodial parent. A child custody arrangement should consider the best interests of the children as the top priority. Family law courts tend to prefer maintaining a balanced relationship with both parents. The parenting time plan is based on a number of factors, including:

  • The children's current living situation and legal residence
  • The parent's ability to care for the children
  • The child's relationship with each parent
  • The stability of the home environment
  • What the child wants
  • School, community, and cultural considerations
  • The physical distance between parents

When both parents are in close proximity, the custodial parent may have more regular visits with the child or 50/50 custody. When the parents live further apart, the visitation time may be more staggered, such as the children spending summer breaks and alternating holidays with the non-custodial parent.

Moving out of state after you have an established parenting agreement will likely disrupt the existing schedule. In most cases, you will have to modify the child custody plan if you are going to move to another state. Even a temporary relocation may require approval from the court or notifying and getting permission from the other parent. If your ex objects, it could complicate custody issues. An experienced attorney can help you explore your options and protect your parental rights.

Sole Custody or No Visitation Schedule

If you have sole physical and legal custody of your children and the other parent does not have parenting time, you may be able to move to another state without permission from the other parent. However, the other parent may file a motion to prevent you from moving away with the children.

In custody proceedings, the court may decide whether moving to another state is in the children's best interests. If you do not have a visitation schedule or custody agreement in place yet because the divorce decree is not finalized, consult with your divorce lawyer before making any moves.

Moving Your Children to Another State

Each state has its own statutes and laws concerning when a custodial parent can move a child out of state. Those laws provide different guidelines to judges who are making the decision about whether a child can move with the parent and under what circumstances. The court may balance one parent's freedom to move with the child's relationship with the other parent. However, the court will generally prioritize the best interests of the child and consider the child's relationship with both parents.

The court may also consider the practical effects of moving on the parent-child relationship to minimize any negative impacts for the children and parents. The court may also consider how often visits will take place, at whose expense the visits will take place, and any other plans for regular communication between the children and the parent. Long-distance moves generally require more accommodations.

The court may also need to evaluate any special considerations. If the parent or the children need special medical care or education, or if the move is for temporary health care for a disability, then the court may be more willing to allow the children to move out of state.

Moving Without Permission

Parents may get frustrated with the family court system or the other parent refusing to let them move to another state. However, taking matters into your own hands is a bad idea. Even if you feel justified in moving to another state and taking your children with you, the court will generally have a different idea. Family courts take violating child custody orders or other family court orders seriously. Moving to another state in violation of court orders could result in criminal charges, including parental kidnapping. Consult with your child custody attorney before moving out of state.

Does Your Ex Want to Move Out-of-State?

If your ex is the custodial parent and wants to move to another state after you file for divorce, as the noncustodial parent, you may have a say in whether your child can move away or not. Carefully consider your options so you can maintain a strong relationship with your child. If the other parent wants to move in violation of the visitation agreement, you can petition the court to stop the move. If you are concerned about a sudden, last-minute plan to move, you can seek immediate injunctive relief from the court, including temporary custody. Talk to your family law attorney first.