Let’s start with a real-life scenario: John and Susan share physical custody of their daughter, Mary. They live about 10 minutes apart in the same Virginia town, and though Mary’s primary residence is with her mother, Susan, John spends several days a week with his daughter. He goes to her school functions, never misses a soccer game or piano recital, and takes her to church every Sunday. Susan would like to relocate to Dallas. She has gotten a new job there with a larger salary, and she will be close to her parents, Mary’s grandparents, and other extended family. The schools are great and she and Mary will have a higher standard of living there, which will give Mary many more opportunities. John does not want Susan and Mary to move. He is involved in her life and does not want to lose contact with his daughter for extended periods of time. John feels he is being cut out of Mary’s life and that the move will make it nearly impossible for visitation with Mary to continue. Custody and visitation Parents who are separating often wonder whether they can move out of state, and whether they can move their child with them. Whether it’s for a better job prospect, a new relationship, or to have support of extended family, parents need to take extra precautions before deciding whether to make a move following separation or divorce. In Virginia, if a parent wishes to relocate, he/she must give at least 30-days written notice to the other parent. If your co-parent moves away without giving written notice, they will likely be in contempt of court. A custody order is not set in stone and may be modified by the court at any time after the divorce. If you share custody of your child with your co-parent, and the two of you can’t come to a decision about relocation, the court will step in and decide with which parent the child remains. In relocation cases, the court is interested in only one thing: whether the best interests of the child will be served by modifying the existing custody order and allowing the relocation. The court does not take into consideration whether the relocation is in the parent’s best interest. The court focuses on these three factors:
- The reason for relocation, including employment opportunities, standard of living, and contact with extended family members, and how it will enrich the child’s life.
- The effect a relocation will have on the relationship of the non-custodial parent and the child.
- How the relocation will affect the non-custodial parent’s visitation with the child.