The Relocation of a Parent May Support a Change in Custody (or Not!)

Several recent cases have addressed the overlapping questions of modification to an existing custody and visitation order and the relocation of a parent. The courts have consistently held that modification of an existing custodial arrangement is possible upon a showing of a change in circumstances warranting a modification in the child’s best interests.

Thus the inquiry initially requires proof of a change in circumstances since the issuance of the order which is sought to be modified. The relocation of a parent can be a sufficient change in circumstances to warrant modification. If relocation is held to be a sufficient change in circumstances then the inquiry shifts to a consideration of the child’s best interests. Those best interests could involve economic, educational or emotional considerations.

One court recently held that where a father’s relocation offers the child economic and educational benefits and the child’s contact with his mother will not be substantially impacted because the father has offered liberal access to the mother, the child’s best interests are served by a change in custody to the father. However, another court held that a father’s relocation closer to the home of the mother and the school of the child was an insufficient change in circumstance to warrant a change of custody to the father, particularly in light of the child’s need for stability and the impact of uprooting the child from the mother’s residence. Finally, a third court has held that where a mother’s relocation to another state was not shown to enhance the economic, emotional or educational life of the child, no change of custody to the mother was granted.

Relocation of a parent, then, may be held to constitute a sufficient change in circumstances but custody will not be modified even then if the change is not warranted by the best interests of the child.

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