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Can one parent move out of town or out of state before a divorce is finalized?

Typically, when a parent of a minor child files for divorce, if custody is an issue, courts may impose temporary orders that prohibit a parent from moving with a minor child. A judge may prohibit a move until an agreement is reached between the parents or the judge makes an order on custody.

As part of the divorce process, it may be a good idea for both parents to work with a mediator and their own attorneys to make a Parenting Plan that sets out the specifics of both physical and legal custody. A plan can specifically discuss whether moving is allowed, as well as lay out a path for resolving disputes. If you need to move before the plan is finalized, you may be able to secure a temporary agreement from the other parent, or temporary permission from the court, to do so.

If parents cannot agree, a judge may make a decision that neither party is satisfied with, and craft final orders that may make it difficult for either parent to move away with or without their kids.

When can one parent move out of state with their child?

There are many circumstances when a parent can move out of state with their child. On the other hand, there are also situations where leaving the county may not be allowed. Understanding the basics of child custody law, particularly the differences between legal custody and physical custody, is a good place to start this discussion. You may want to ask a lawyer before making a decision.

A parent with legal custody refers to decision-making related to the child’s educational, medical, and other needs. Legal custody is either shared or sole (meaning just one parent makes these decisions). Physical custody, on the other hand, generally refers to who the child lives with primarily, or at a given time.

If one parent is granted sole physical custody, that means a child will primarily live with that parent and the other parent may be limited to visitation only. As a result, it may be easier for a parent with sole physical custody to move out of state. This does not necessarily mean, however, they can move without modifying a child custody order. Parents without legal custody often have rights to visitation, or to shared physical custody, which can make moving far away difficult, especially without their cooperation.

In some situations, such as when a judge includes a moving radius in the original orders, a custodial parent may move without asking a court’s permission or requesting a modification, so long as they stay within that radius. For example, some areas may permit the custodial parent to move as many as 100 miles from their current residence, or the residence of the other parent. If a move is within these limits, the custodial parent can likely move with no issue. In areas where states border one another, however, moving across state lines may still require permission.

If you are in the process of separating, divorcing, or modifying custody orders, and think you may want to move further away than your state typically allows, you may request that a judge grant you permission to move a greater distance before a custody agreement is finalized, so that you do not need to seek permission from the other parent in future.

Is a custody agreement required to move with your child out of state?

It depends. If you have no formal agreement with the other parent, and there is no court order about custody, you may move, but there could be ramifications if the other parent later objects. If custody is shared, contacting the other parent to reach an agreement is possible, but may be complicated. It can help to ask a lawyer about your rights, the process, and how to approach the discussion.

How far away can a parent move with shared custody?

Shared custody can refer to many different arrangements. If parents share physical custody, they may spend relatively equal time with the child or it may mean that the child lives primarily with one parent. A joint custody arrangement may dictate the distance two parents can live apart.

For example, in a 50/50 physical custody arrangement, if parents cannot work something out, a judge may modify the arrangement in the best interest of the child. It can be helpful if the parent making the move offers to shoulder more of the increased travel burden. If the child lives primarily with one parent and spends alternate weekends with the other parent, the custody agreement may permit more distance.

A parent who feels that a move would not be in their child’s best interests can petition a court to stop the move. Ultimately, if you cannot reach an agreement with your child’s other parent, a judge may make a decision no one likes.

What happens when a parent with visitation relocates?

If a non-custodial parent, or a parent with visitation only, relocates, what happens typically depends on them, and what they can work out with their child’s other parent. A custody agreement filed with the court, or a court order, remains in place until an alternative agreement is approved or ordered by the court. It can be helpful to approach these discussions with empathy and after thinking about it from both your child’s and the other parent’s perspective.

If a non-custodial parent has the child every other weekend and moves six hours away, the parent must return the child at the end of every other weekend. Whenever alternative arrangements are set, it can be helpful to document those in a Child Visitation Letter.

If a non-custodial parent needs to relocate and an agreement cannot be reached, they may seek a modification of the court’s order to ensure they keep their rights.

If you have more legal questions about relocating with your kids, or maintaining your rights to visitation, reach out to a Rocket Lawyer network attorney for affordable legal advice.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.


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