A split family can sometimes be difficult, and this is especially true when planning a move or relocation. Step-parents and their spouses may have important legal considerations before a move, and they may even have to go to court to deal with custody issues.
Relocation and Custody Basics
Relocation is primarily a problem if children are bound to a custody agreement to the other parent. This agreement could take varied forms, but it usually grants the noncustodial parent some form of legal access to the child at certain times. If a relocation is going to disrupt this access in any way, then the custodial parent and step-parent spouse will have to consider carefully. Willfully violating a custody agreement can have serious legal consequences up to loss of custody.
Distance of the Move
A relocation’s level of disruption is often dependent on the length of the move. A move across town or to a neighboring town only minutes away is not likely to be considered disruptive. A move to the other side of the state, or several hours away, is likely to be considered disruptive.
It is very important to consider that child custody agreements are state-level legal contracts. This means that any move across state lines has the potential to transfer jurisdiction of the agreement and likely must be court-approved. A custodial-parent should speak to a lawyer before moving across state lines, even if such a move is not that far distance-wise.
The level of disruption from a long-distance relocation is heavily dependent on the custody terms and visitation schedule. If the noncustodial parent only has the children during holidays or summers, then the court is likely to be more amenable to a long-distance move. If the noncustodial parent is supposed to have access to the children every weekend or more often than that, then a long-distance separation will be much more difficult to obtain. The noncustodial parent also has the right to object to any relocation or increase in hardship on visitation, and the custodial parent must answer these objections.
Modifying the Agreement
Long-distance relocations may require a modification of a custody agreement to allow for travel and longer periods of separation. For example, an agreement could be changed so that children spend longer blocks of time with the noncustodial parent but see them a fewer number of times. The agreement could also specify transportation and costs associated with that. For example, the custodial parent makes the trip part of the time and the noncustodial parent the other part.
A step-parent does have some weight in how this decision is made, but it is also important for a step-parent to understand their legal limitations. The custody agreement is primarily a contract between the children’s biological parents, and it is the rights of those parents and the children that are primarily a concern. A good rule of thumb is that any dramatic change in the children’s living conditions or location should be brought to the attention of a family law attorney at a place like Madison Law Firm PLLC. The attorney may be able to advise on the impact the change has on the custody agreement and the necessity of modifying the agreement. Often, families can work all of this out for themselves and never go to court, but families should also be prepared to go to court if they need to.