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Moving Apart Happens in Divorce, But It Doesn’t Have to Split Your Family

By Hannibal Heredia, Hedgepeth, Heredia & Rieder

In a divorce, families go from living in one home to two. But what happens when one partner decides to move a significant distance?

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  • We’re not talking moving a few blocks, but moving out of the city where the entire family has been living, or out of state entirely.
  • One partner might move before the divorce, possibly thinking the move would be temporary, or that the other partner and kids would join them later. But it often doesn't work out that way, and the former partners end up living in different cities with a divorce underway.

Parental relocation is an issue that is growing as our society becomes ever more mobile. Here are three key things to think about for couples in this kind of “moving” situation:

1. Best Interests of the Children. You must ask: Is this move in the best interests of the child, or just the parent? The judge, as in any modification case, will look at factors such as who was the primary parent; what schedule was being followed by the parties; how active was the parent with less parenting time; what activities were the child(ren) involved in; and what age is the child. 

However, there is no formula for determining what constitutes the best interests of the child. Each judge makes the decision on a case-by-case basis. For example, a parent who accepts a job in another town paying the same wage and lives in a house the same size as the one left behind may not present a compelling argument for moving.

But adding increased access to grandparents or other family, or attending a school recognized for excellence makes it more compelling. In the end relocation decisions tend to be case by case.

2. Job Changes. Accepting a job (or marriage proposal) out of town does not automatically mean that the judge will alter the custody agreement. Before accepting, talk to your former spouse about making adjustments to the custody agreement. Ideally, if you can get buy-in from your parenting partner, then you can present the request for changes in the custody agreement together.

moving vanIf your former spouse is not on board with the move, it may take longer to get changes made. If you’ve already made the move before requesting the custody change, you may find yourself with considerably reduced access to your children.

3. Where You Are Moving Matters. If you are relocating to a different neighborhood in the same town or a nearby town, the judge is more likely to allow it, because the disruption is minimal.

Remember, however, that moving even as little 45 minutes away can mean an hour and half of travel time for the visiting parent, and can make getting a child to school on time an unmanageable challenge. The judge may decide to give weekday custody to the parent who stays in the school district, and restrict the relocating parent to custody on weekends and holidays.

Moving across the country - or to another country - ups the ante considerably. Daily visitation becomes impossible. The challenges of coparenting are magnified by distance. Most crucially, it will require significant travel by the child, which can be very expensive. The farther away a parent wants to move, the more significantly the custody agreement will have to be reworked. It becomes unlikely the parent who’s moving will get everything they’re asking for in the arrangement.

If you choose to move, for whatever reason, the judge may decide to place all travel expenses for the child solely with you. Considering that most children under 14 cannot fly alone, two plane tickets may have to be purchased for every visit.

4. Question Your Own Motives. It is common for parents to want a fresh start, but unless that fresh start comes with some tangible benefits for the child, the judge may be unlikely to grant it. Getting far away from your former spouse isn't good enough.

 It’s worth mentioning that even when a parent moves away, advances in technology have made keeping in touch easier than ever before. FaceTime, Skype, and social media allow even the most faraway parents to stay in daily contact with their kids.

Of course, physical custody of the kids is what we’re focusing on here. Divorce by its nature will always involve spouses moving in some fashion. They key is to follow these guidelines so the best interests of the children are well-considered.

Always consult your family law attorney to help you through these legal processes. You can reach Hannibal Heredia at  or (404) 846-7025.