Moving Away With Your Children After Divorce

After a divorce, it is not uncommon for parents to consider relocating.  An estimated 25% of parents move away with their children within the first two years after divorce.  These parents do not necessarily move because they want to make it difficult for non-relocating parents to spend time with their children.   More often, these parents move to pursue a career opportunity, live with a new spouse or partner, be closer to family, or simply to make a fresh start somewhere new.

Relocation raises significant child custody and visitation issues.  If a proposed move involves a child subject to a Connecticut child custody order, a parent cannot move with the child unless he or she has either the other parent’s approval or permission from the court.  It is usually best for relocation issues to be resolved between the parents, who are in the ideal position to determine what is in the best interest of their child.   If this is not possible, however, the courts will intervene to make that determination.

Connecticut Child Relocation Laws

In the past, parents with primary physical custody were free to move with their children wherever they wanted.  Parents did not have to give notice or seek the permission of the other parent or the court prior to relocating.  During that time, the only recourse for non-relocating parents was to file a motion for a change of custody and argue that relocation was not in the best interests of the child.  That all changed in 2006, when Connecticut passed Public Act No. 06-168, An Act Concerning the Relocation of Parents Having Custody of Minor Children.  The law now recognizes the importance of visitation between a child and their parent, and attempts to prevent disruption of that visitation when it could be detrimental to a child.

Presently, Connecticut law requires a very particular analysis if a parent plans to move, and that move would have a significant impact on an existing parenting plan.  Before the court will allow a parent to relocate with a child, the relocating parent bears the burden of proving that (1) the relocation is for a legitimate purpose, (2) the proposed location is reasonable in light of such purpose, and (3) the relocation is in the best interests of the child (Conn. Gen. Stats. § 46b-56d).

The court is required to consider the following factors when determining whether to approve relocation:

  • Each parent’s reasons for seeking or opposing the relocation.

Is the parent relocating to pursue a better paying job that will provide more opportunities for the children?  Is the move to be closer to family for support and childcare?  The court will evaluate whether the reasons for the move stem from a legitimate purpose or simply to deprive the other parent from spending time with their children.

  • The quality of the relationships between the child and each parent.

If the child has a close relationship with the non-relocating parent, the court is less likely to disrupt this relationship.  A request to move that would make it difficult or impossible to continue visitation would likely be denied.  On the other hand, if the non-relocating parent has not taken advantage of scheduled visitation or if the relationship is a strained one, the court may decide to allow the move.

  • The impact of the relocation on the quantity and the quality of the child’s future contact with the non-relocating parent.

The court will consider the impact the move will have on the existing parenting plan.  For example, if a mother lives in Stamford and a father lives in California, the mother’s move to Hartford is not going to have a significant impact on the father’s visitation rights.  If both parents live in Stamford, however, the mother’s move to Hartford may seriously interfere with the father’s visitation rights.

  • The degree to which the relocating parent’s and the child’s life may be enhanced economically, emotionally and educationally by the relocation.

Will a job in the new location allow the relocating parent to provide a better quality of life for the child or will the demanding new work schedule require the child to spend endless hours in day care?  Will the child benefit by being around grandparents, cousins, and other family members, or do those family members have a history of abuse?  The court will evaluate the specific facts and determine whether relocation would ultimately be beneficial to the child’s life.

  • The feasibility of preserving the relationship between the non-relocating parent and the child through suitable visitation arrangements.

How difficult and expensive will it be for the child to see the non-relocating parent, either in Connecticut or in the child’s new home state?  Is the new location a drivable distance, or is a flight required for visitation?  Will the non-relocating parent have ample access to the child via cell phone, Skype, texts, emails, etc.?  The court will assess whether ongoing communication and visitation (crucial for maintaining a parent-child relationship) is feasible following the relocation.

It is important to note that these are not the only factors a court can consider when deciding a relocation dispute.  The court may assess many additional factors, making the process even more complicated.  Accordingly, if you are involved in a child custody or relocation dispute, it is best to consult with an experienced family law attorney.

Conclusion

Under Connecticut law, a parent can only move with a child if he or she first obtains permission from the other parent, or, if permission is not granted, approval from the court.  At McConnell Family Law Group, our experienced family law attorneys can help protect your rights and ensure that your ex-spouse follows state law.  Our attorneys can assist you in filing the appropriate legal paperwork and collecting the proper evidence to help you make a case for relocation – or help you fight if you object to a planned relocation.

Attorneys from the McConnell Family Law Group practice throughout Connecticut, covering: Greenwich, Darien, New Canaan, Stamford, Westport, Wilton, West Hartford, Simsbury, Avon, Farmington, Glastonbury and surrounding areas.  If you would like more information about child relocation after divorce, custody, or any other family law issue, call one of our offices located in Hartford (860) 266-1166, Stamford (203) 539-6221, or New Canaan (203) 344-7007 to schedule your appointment today.

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