Divorce and separation cannot help but have some traumatic effect on the minor children. Although the children may accept and get used to the routine of having only one parent as their primary caretaker and seeing the other parent as part of a visitation schedule, the arrangement can become much more complicated if one parent wants to remove the child or children to another state.
Any child removal from the current residence to one that may be hundreds or thousands of miles away is going to affect the child in terms of education, social contacts and the relationship with the noncustodial parent and his or her visitation rights.
Permission Required to Remove Child
Massachusetts requires the custodial parent to petition the court to remove the child to another state or distant location. If you are the noncustodial parent, you may have to seek modification of the existing visitation order. In New Hampshire the custodial parent is required to provide written notice of his or her intended move at least 60 days in advance. It is then incumbent upon the non-custodial parent to seek a court order if he or she opposes the move.
In any potential move, the courts will examine whether the removal is in the best interests of the child. Parents move for many reasons, but the principal one is for employment purposes, whether it is for career advancement or for a new opportunity. In any case, one parent is facing limited visitation with the child and possible great expense in facilitating a visit.
In Massachusetts, the courts consider several factors in seeing if the best interests of the child standard is met:
- Will the move improve or enhance the quality of life for the custodial parent and child? In other word, if there is a “real advantage” in moving?
- What is the motive for the move and the likelihood that the parent will comply with a new visitation schedule?
- How will the move affect the relationship the child has with the non-custodial parent
Reasons for Removal
If the reason for your move is reasonable and is meant to further your career, for example, the courts will generally look favorably upon it and allow the move, but the court will be mindful of other underlying reasons. For instance, a move of considerable distance simply to work for someone else at the same rate of pay or which is not a career advancement move, or for the purpose of moving in with a new partner may not result in a favorable ruling. If your relationship with the noncustodial parent has been strained or there have been allegations of abuse or other misconduct, the court may look more closely to see if the move is designed to deny the other parent visitation.
Also, if the move is to a desolate location or which significantly impacts the child’s education, health and social relationships, then the court may be hesitant in approving the move. If you have a special needs child or one with a unique relationship with his or her school or community, then you may have to demonstrate how the child’s needs will be met or how the new community will provide at least a comparable, if not improved, environment for the child to flourish.