I need to move…but what about the kids?

You’ve received some good news:  You’ve been offered that promotion you’ve been working towards.  The bad news:  In order to take the promotion, you’ll have to move out-of-state.  Oh, and you share custody of your kids with your former spouse.  In today’s increasingly-mobile society, this scenario is common.  So – can you relocate if you share custody?  The answer is complicated.

In Missouri, parents who plan to relocate, whether out-of-state or around the corner, must provide notice of the proposed move to any other person entitled to custody or visitation of the children.  This notice must be made pursuant to Missouri Revised Statute §452.377.  The statute describes the details of what must be included in the notice and how and when the notice must be given.

If parents agree upon a proposed relocation, if it involves the need to change a custody schedule, it is still a good idea for the agreement to be formalized through the court.  This will confirm, in writing, the consent to the relocation, the new parenting schedule and any adjustments to the financial orders needed due to the change.

Unfortunately, it isn’t always possible to reach an agreement regarding relocation and if the relocation will disrupt an established parenting schedule these issues are some of the most difficult to resolve.  When parents can’t agree, they have a couple of options to help resolve the disagreement.  First, if the parents are unable to reach an agreement on their own, they may wish to discuss their disagreement in mediation.  Through mediation, the parties may be able to determine a workable solution for the entire family.  Click here to learn more about the benefits of mediation.

If the parents are unable to reach an agreement regarding a proposed relocation, either on their own, or through mediation, a contested process may be necessary to resolve the dispute.  A contested relocation matter generally commences with the filing of a relocation notice, as mentioned above.  If the other parent disagrees with the relocation, he or she then files an objection and the process becomes a proceeding to modify the terms the prior judgment.   As part of that process, the parties often hire attorneys who gather evidence and prepare for trial.  If a settlement cannot be reached, the judge will hear the evidence and make a decision for the parties.  Resolution of a relocation case through litigation can take a long time, making it difficult for parents to make decisions as to whether to plan on moving or to make other arrangements.

What will the court look at when deciding whether to modify custody to allow relocation?

If the matter is presented to the court, the moving parent has the burden to prove that the relocation (and modification of custody) is made in good faith and is in the best interests of the children.  The court must consider certain factors under Missouri law, including  (1) The wishes of the child’s parents as to custody and the proposed parenting plan submitted by both parties; (2) The needs of the child for a frequent, continuing and meaningful relationship with both parents and the ability and willingness of parents to actively perform their functions as mother and father for the needs of the child; (3) The interaction and interrelationship of the child with parents, siblings, and any other person who may significantly affect the child’s best interests; (4) Which parent is more likely to allow the child frequent, continuing and meaningful contact with the other parent; (5) The child’s adjustment to the child’s home, school and community; (6) The mental and physical health of all individuals involved, including any history of abuse of any individuals involved; and (7) The wishes of the child as to the child’s custodian. §452.375 RSMo.

As you can see from the above factors, this is a fact-sensitive inquiry.  Each situation is different.  If the judge determines, after considering all the necessary factors and evidence, that relocation serves the best interests of the children, the judge may grant the requested relocation and will likely enter a new parenting schedule for the children.  As in many family law cases, judges have a great deal of discretion in determining these issues.

What happens if you receive a notice to relocate that you disagree with? 

A parent (or other person with custodial rights) who receives a notice to relocate to which he or she objects, should be sure to take the appropriate steps to protect his or her rights under Missouri Law.  §452.377 RSMo. states, in part: “the residence of the child may be relocated sixty days after providing notice, as required by this section, unless a parent files a motion seeking an order to prevent the relocation within thirty days after receipt of such notice. Such motion shall be accompanied by an affidavit setting forth the specific factual basis supporting a prohibition of the relocation…”

If you receive a notice of relocation to which you object, you should move quickly to be sure you follow all applicable laws.  You may wish to employ an attorney to represent you in a relocation matter.  Even if you are attempting to resolve a relocation dispute without court intervention, you should be sure to meet the necessary statutory deadlines.  After you meet the necessary deadlines, your settlement discussions may continue.  However, if you fail to properly respond to a notice of relocation, it is possible you will be deemed to have consented to the relocation.

The decision to relocate is an important one that may significantly impact your family and your child’s relationship with each parent. Compliance with Missouri law is absolutely essential.  There are many issues that must be considered and an appropriate course of action should be mapped out.  If you are considering relocating and have questions, or if you have received a notice of relocation to which you object, please give us a call to discuss your situation.

Please be aware that every situation is different.  This article should not be considered legal advice.  The choice of a lawyer is an important decision and should not be based solely upon advertisements.