- How custody works in California
- What happens when a parent wants to move?
- 4 reasons parents must move away
- How the court handles this
During a move-away case, one parent hopes to relocate to a new city or state, disrupting the other parent's typical custody-sharing schedule. These are delicate and challenging legal situations, and plenty of emotions are involved.
If you'd like to move to make your child's life better, your partner's dismay can be frustrating. If you don't want your child to move, the change can feel personal or vindictive.
It's typically best to hire a lawyer to help you with a move-away case. This isn't a proceeding you can (or should) handle by yourself. But there's plenty you can do to prepare for your case and protect your relationship with your child.
How does custody work in California?
Children are assets in a divorce, and couples work together to create plans to support and care for them.
Two forms of child custody exist in California:
- Legal custody: Who makes important decisions for children?
- Physical custody: Who runs the household where the children live?
A move-away case may not change legal custody plans. But if a parent moves far away, physical custody plans could be altered dramatically.
Parents also decide on visitation during a divorce. Several options exist, such as these:
- Scheduled: Parents determine when the child will be with each parent, including holidays and vacations.
- Reasonable visitation: Collaborative parents have open-ended plans that they enforce together.
- Supervised: Visits require the presence of another person, which could be a professional agency.
These plans could also be altered in a move-away case. If one parent lives far enough away that the child must catch a plane to visit, swapping households every week could be logistically or financially impossible.
A parenting plan describes how parents divide their responsibilities. These plans are typically hammered out during the divorce process, and they're codified with forms filed with the court. Altering that plan typically means filing more paperwork.
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What happens when a parent wants to move?
Parents with custody can typically move with their children unless the other parent can prove that the switch will harm the children in some way.
California courts say these cases are complicated and challenging. They don't recommend that parents tackle these questions without lawyers.
Experts must parse the language within your parenting plan, assess the best interests of a child, and more. These aren't issues you can handle alone. It's best to allow lawyers to work with you.
But your lawyer will rely on your homework and knowledge to prepare your case. You can do a lot to arm your lawyer with the necessary details to protect your children.
4 good reasons parents must move away
California judges keep the best interests of your children in mind when settling custody disputes. Sometimes, it's truly best for a parent to find a new place to live.
These are a few situations in which a move could be seen as best for the child in question:
1. You have a new job
Of people who moved for work, 60% cited a stronger job market. Your employment directly impacts your child's health and well-being. If you can find a solid, steady position with a good salary and plenty of benefits, your child could benefit.
If you've been unable to find work within your field where you live now, but you have an offer in hand from a strong firm, you could make a move look appealing to the courts.
2. You can't afford California
The Golden State is one of the most expensive places to live in the U.S. If you live in San Francisco, for example, your daily cost of living is 91% more expensive than the national average. If you pick a new and less pricey place to call home, the money you save could get funneled back to your child.
3. You can't find safe housing
The California real estate market is robust, and it's often challenging for people to find homes in safe neighborhoods with good school districts. A move could help you find a safe and secure place to raise your child.
4. You want to be close to family
A child's grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins could provide added support and stability, which could be incredibly beneficial. If you can prove that your child will have direct contact with this extended family, it could be a good way to justify a move.
How does the court handle this?
Couples typically solve move-away cases in hearings. Both parents and their lawyers gather in a courtroom to discuss the pros and cons of switching a child's place of residence.
Parents, mediators, and childcare experts may testify during the hearing. And parents should be prepared with documents that detail why the move should happen (or why it should be blocked).
The court looks for evidence about the following:
- Current plans: The court considers how much time the child spends with both parents now, how well the child relates to both parents, and how happy the child is with the situation as it stands.
- Reasoning: Judges consider why the parent wants to move, and they look for evidence that the parent is putting the child's needs first.
- Relationship: Courts consider how well the parents work together and how likely they are to continue that collaboration after the move.
At the end of a hearing, the judge makes a formal decree about the move. This ruling relates only to the child.
Adults can move anywhere they like within the United States, and no court can stop them. But if you were hoping to move with your children and the judge blocks their move, you have some decisions to make.
Tips to help you win a move-away case
It's best to work with your partner regarding child custody issues. Courts do their best to remain fair and impartial, but it's always ideal if two parties can come together without involving judges and lawyers and rules.
But if your case does move forward, following a few reasonable steps can help you get the outcome you want.
If you are moving, make sure you do the following:
- Demonstrate clearly how this move will help your child.
- Outline how you'll arrange frequent visits for your child.
- Set an aggressive moving timeframe to prove you're serious.
If you don't want the other parent to move, do the following:
- Negotiate with your partner and try to convince them to stay. Present good reasons why it is in your child’s best interest.
- Demonstrate how this move will clearly harm your child and your relationship.
- Be as calm and reasonable as you can in court. Prepare ahead of time, so emotions don’t go unchecked.
These cases are difficult and emotional. But remember not to drag your children into the conflict. Remain as professional and calm with them as you can. Together, you can come to an agreement the whole family can support.Basics of Custody and Visitation Orders. Judicial Branch of California.
Child Custody Information Sheet—Child Custody Mediation Sheet. (January 2012). Judicial Council of California.
Custody and Visitation. Superior Court of California, County of Santa Clara.
Custody and Parenting Time FAQs. Judicial Council of California.
Americans Most Often Move for Work. (May 2017). Society for Human Resources Management.
Cost of Living in California 2022. (July 2022). Bankrate.