What Happens if One Parent with Physical Child Custody Wants to Relocate?

In California, physical child custody is often called “parenting time.” California courts prefer, whenever possible, to order joint parenting time. That doesn’t necessarily mean the parents have a strict 50/50 division of time with the child, as that’s often not practical. But it means each parent will have time on their own with the child to keep each parent as involved in the child’s life as possible.

But whether the parents share parenting time or one parent has sole physical custody, one parent’s potential relocation can cause concern and have legal ramifications. Here’s what you need to know.

Can I Relocate if I Have Sole Physical Custody of the Child?

It would seem logical that a parent with sole physical custody of the child could move anywhere without the other parent’s input. But that’s not necessarily the case. It’s more likely to be accepted by the court than if the parents have joint physical custody. However, even with sole custody, the parent with the custodial rights may have to make a case to the court if the other parent objects.

The court will then examine whether the sole custody was a permanent order (meaning it was part of the divorce decree that ended the marriage). The other parent could object that the move would cause harm to the child, but they would need to prove that to the court’s satisfaction. In general, physical custody cases will always look first and foremost at what’s in the child’s best interests. So, if the noncustodial parent can prove there would be harm, it might be more difficult for the custodial parent.

What Happens if One Parent with Joint Physical Custody Wants to Move?

Suppose the move is a short one and won’t affect the parenting time for either parent, the parent who’s moving needs to notify the other parent. That’s usually all that’s required if the other parent agrees.

It’s more complicated when the move is far enough away that it requires changes to the parenting time in the custody orders. In some cases, the parents may have drawn up physical custody orders that specify if either may move away and how far they can move, such as restricting any moves to a 50-mile radius.

When that happens, the parent moving must notify the other parent of their intent to move within that radius.

But if the parent wants to move farther than the limit imposed in the order, or if the order didn’t include any decisions regarding moving, it may involve a return to family court, especially if it changes the parenting time of both parents or if the other parent objects.

What Does the Court Consider When One Parent Wants to Relocate?

When the original parenting time orders were approved by the court, it was done by the court considering what was in the child’s best interests. That’s the same priority that would be used in changing those orders. When determining what those best interests are, the courts will look at:

– How physical custody was initially set up

– The distance of the move

– The reason for the move

– How well the parents are able to communicate and cooperate regarding parenting issues

– The age of the affected children and, if they’re old enough, their preferences

– The relationships between the child and each parent

– Whether or not the move will benefit the child, or would it be more beneficial for them to remain in the original location for stability’s sake

Can One Parent Move out of the Country With the Child?

This is more complex and fraught than if one parent moves within the same state or even to another state within the U.S. The courts will look at the same considerations mentioned above, but there are additional factors they’ll examine.

– The cultural conditions and practices of the foreign country and how that could affect the child

– Whether or not the foreign country will abide by California custody orders

– How difficult it will be for the child to visit the parent that remains in California or vice versa, including the expense of traveling between the two countries and other travel issues

How difficult it will be for the child and the parent in California to remain in regular contact, including time zone differences, internet access, etc.

The court will most likely rule against the child’s move if it determines that moving to another country would be more detrimental than beneficial to the child for any of the following reasons.

– The new country’s culture and social conditions differ widely from American practices.

– The child would be barred from rights they enjoy in the U.S. or would be raised under oppressive practices. That could include countries with significant restrictions on female education, religious restrictions, etc.

– The child would be barred from protections that exist in the U.S. or not able to access advantages they have here, such as a child with a disability needing special services.

What Should I Do if I Need Help with a Child Custody Case Involving Relocation?

Call Tomassian, Pimentel & Shapazian as soon as possible at 559-277-7300 to set up a consultation. We understand how important it is to be a part of your child’s life and how stressful the thought of relocation, whether yours or the other parent’s, is for you. We can work through the specifics of your case and how the law applies to it. Then, we can help you determine what the best outcomes might be.