Solving Complex Family Law Issues with Creative Strategies

Move-Away / Relocation Custody Disputes

Move-away disputes and relocation cases often prove to be some of the toughest conflicts our clients face. Problems are bound to come up when a custodial parent wants to move with their child somewhere that will interfere with the non-custodial parent’s visitation rights. The same applies when a parent who shares joint custody wants to move away with their child. What about the other parent’s rights? Can they stop the move?

The consequences of a court’s ruling in a move-away case can be profound on both parents and children. A move could be disputed even at a distance of 50 miles away – so long as the new arrangement would disrupt the other parent’s ability to see their children under the current parenting plan in effect. As a result, both the emotional and economic stakes tend to run high in move-away cases.

  • For the move-away parent, the relocation offers a fresh start after a divorce. You might have a new job around which to build your post-divorce future. You might be moving closer to other family members, who can help with housing or childcare. You might be moving someplace with a lower cost of living.
  • But for the stay-behind parent, the move threatens your parenthood. You could lose physical access to your children, which would fundamentally alter your relationship with them as they grow. You might feel cut out of your children’s lives.

At Moradi Saslaw, our experienced divorce lawyers in San Francisco and family law attorneys help:

  • Divorced or divorcing parents seeking to relocate with the children
  • Unmarried parents hope to prevent the other parent from moving away with the children, and
  • Domestic partners involved in move-away disputes without marriage.

The courts cannot prevent adults from moving and traveling freely across the country. The issue becomes whether a parent can take their child with them wherever they go.

Whichever side of a move-away case you’re on, you have legal options to help protect your rights. If one parent wants to move away during your divorce, that could play a major role in the custody arrangement you ultimately get. If you already have a custody arrangement in place, one parent’s move could trigger a re-evaluation of the original custody terms.

With so much on the line, you need a family attorney you can trust to handle the sensitive issues behind your move-away dispute. Call our San Francisco family law firm now at (415) 872-1080 to discuss your best strategies for moving forward.

How a Move-Away Dispute Works

Unless both parents agree to the move, a parent who wants to move with their child must ask permission from the California family court before doing so.

Move-away disputes make up a complex area of law that’s constantly evolving with new court decisions. In general, relocation cases are usually decided in the following ways:

  1. If no custody order exists yet or if the previous custody order was temporary, the court’s decision will determine which arrangement is in the best interests of the child.
  2. If a final or permanent custody order already exists, the legal standard used by the court will depend on the type of custody arrangement currently in place.
  3. If the parents share joint physical custody of the child, the court will base its move-away decision on the best interests of the child.

If one parent has sole physical custody of the child, they may have an easier time getting court permission to move away. In such cases, the non-custodial parent may successfully prevent the move if they can prove to the court that:

  • The custodial parent’s reasons for moving are in bad faith – for example, they’re moving in an attempt to reduce the other parent’s time with their children, or
  • The move would be detrimental to the child because of the negative effect it will have on the child’s relationship with their other parent.

Move-away cases get complicated because every family situation is so unique. Any existing custody arrangements, domestic violence charges, or family court rulings could affect the outcome of your move-away dispute. California courts will look into all the relevant facts when making their decision.

What do courts consider in move-away relocation custody disputes?

When it comes to child custody matters, California family courts focus primarily on making decisions in the best interests of the child. Move-away requests are similar.

To determine whether to grant a move-away request or not, courts will consider:

  1. The reason for the proposed move
  2. The distance of the move
  3. The age of the child
  4. The child’s relationship with each parent
  5. Any custody arrangement currently in place
  6. The child’s interest in custodial stability and continuity
  7. The relationship between the parents – i.e., are they able to communicate and cooperate effectively? Are they willing to put their child’s interests above their own?
  8. The wishes of the child, if they’re mature enough for the question to be appropriate
  9. Which parent is more likely to encourage frequent and continuing contact between the child and their other parent
  10. The child’s ties to their community and circle of friends
  11. The child’s health and educational needs

The best approach takes all of these factors into consideration in order to make a successful argument for your case – whether that’s for or against the move being proposed.

Addressing all of these issues properly requires a lawyer who’s familiar enough with this area of law to identify the most important points of your case.

If any of these factors work to your disadvantage, it’s often better to address them head-on to mitigate their effects. A knowledgeable family lawyer can help you present the most important issues in a way that emphasizes the greatest strengths of your argument.

How to Win a Move-Away Case in California

Every situation is unique and every family has different needs, which is why it’s important to consult with a competent family law attorney who can put your best interests forward. However, below are general strategies to consider depending on where you stand.

Whichever side you’re on in a move-away dispute, it’s critical to plan ahead and start working on your case early. You’ll need time to address all your issues and determine the best strategy for your position, ideally with the help of a seasoned legal professional.

No matter what, it’s important to approach the move-away dispute process in good faith. Unless a parent has a history of domestic violence, California courts believe the best interests of a child involve maintaining a relationship with both of their parents as much as possible. Moving away to limit your co-parent’s access to your child will not make a good impression on the court. Instead, courts value your ability to cooperate, compromise, and put your child first.

Strategies for the Move-Away Parent

  • Negotiate an initial custody order that gives you sole custody of your child.
  • Avoid including any move-away restriction clauses in your initial custody order.
  • Encourage communication and foster a relationship between your child and your co-parent. Courts are more likely to grant move-away requests when they can trust that the parent left behind won’t be cut out of their child’s life.
  • Reach out and involve your co-parent in major decisions affecting your children, such as their healthcare, education, and extra-curricular activities. The more proactive you are, the more courts will trust you to involve the other parent even if you move away.
  • Avoid making negative comments about your co-parent to your children.
  • If your co-parent breaks their visitation plans with your child, keep a calendar that notes whenever this happens, especially if they never reschedule.
  • Be prepared to tell the custody evaluator and the court your proposed custody and visitation plan if your move-away request gets approved.
  • Research housing, schools, and your child’s new doctors in your proposed move-away location. Be prepared to tell the court and the custody evaluator where you will live, what school the child will attend, and have data on the quality of the schools and the new proposed area.
  • Come prepared to explain your reasons for moving and provide documentation as evidence to back up your statements. For example, if you plan to move because of a lower cost of living somewhere else, bring documentation showing how much less compared to the Bay Area or county you currently reside.
  • Make sure that you’ll have a reliable source of income after your move.
  • Your move-away request may have a better chance at being approved if you choose to move somewhere you have extended family or a new spouse or partner.
  • File your move-away request at least one year before you plan to move. California family courts are often backlogged and the parent opposing your move may attempt delay tactics. When you file your move-away request, your first court hearing date could be scheduled months away. You’ll need enough time to potentially complete court-ordered mediation, custody evaluation, potential depositions, and a trial if you and the other parent do not reach an agreement.

Strategies for the Parent Objecting to the Move-Away Request

  • Negotiate an initial custody agreement that shares joint physical custody and gives you as much of a timeshare as possible.
  • Include a clause in your initial custody agreement that states neither parent can change your child’s local residence without the court’s permission.
  • Encourage your child’s relationship with your co-parent.
  • Stay involved in the major decisions that affect your children, such as their healthcare, education, and extracurricular activities.
  • Avoid making negative comments about your co-parent to your children. Courts disapprove of attempts to sabotage a child’s relationship with their other parent.
  • Exercise all of your parenting time rights. Avoid canceling or breaking plans with your child unless absolutely necessary. If you must cancel, reschedule immediately.
  • If the other parent doesn’t allow you to see your child during your scheduled parenting time, document every case of this happening and any follow-up conversations.
  • If the other parent submits a move-away request, ask the court for a thorough custody evaluation and an evidentiary hearing or trial where you can present evidence to back up your reasons against the move.
  • Be prepared to tell the custody evaluator and the court your proposed custody and visitation plan if your co-parent decides to move away without your child. Have a plan for childcare while you work, whether it involves family, daycare, or after-school programs.
  • You should be able to demonstrate your involvement in your child’s life. Make sure you know the names of their best friends, teachers, and doctors.
  • Talk to a lawyer as soon as possible about fighting the other parent’s move-away request. The sooner you get started, the more time you’ll have for a custody evaluation, custody depositions, and a trial before the other parent’s move date.

The Move-Away Dispute Process: What if we can’t agree?

If you and your co-parent are unable to come to a custody agreement, you may agree to do a custody evaluation or the court may order the evaluation.

A custody evaluation is performed by a psychologist or other mental health professional. As part of the process, the custody evaluator will read and consider both parents’ custody proposals.

A typical custody evaluation will proceed in several stages over a period of time. Usually, the process lasts about three months but the duration could be longer. Although it’s not required, a custody evaluation will commonly include the following parts:

  • Interviewing both parents
  • Interviewing the child or children
  • Observing the parent-child relationship through home visits
  • Psychological testing and analysis of both parents
  • Interviewing third parties such as family friends, teachers, and doctors
  • Reviewing any available reports or documents (such as academic school records, domestic violence records, criminal records, etc.)

Courts usually place great weight on the custody evaluation and the recommendations that result. Therefore, it’s essential to work with a family law attorney who understands the evaluation process in order to help you properly prepare for it.

We understand the high stakes involved in move-away disputes and that nothing is more important than one’s child.  Geographical distance can profoundly affect a parent’s relationship with their child – especially when it comes to younger children. Move-away cases have a greater chance of resolving smoothly when both parents are willing to come to the negotiation table in good faith. Your case could become more difficult if your co-parent is unwilling to cooperate or compromise. The right advocate could make all the difference in the outcome of your case.

At Moradi Saslaw, our knowledgeable family law attorneys will help you prepare for your custody evaluation by explaining the process, coaching you on how to make the best impression during the evaluation, and negotiating for a specific evaluator. Contact our San Francisco family law offices now at (415) 872-1080 to get started.