Whether you’re contemplating divorce now or managing an already agreed upon parenting plan, it’s important to know how to handle life changes. The biggest concern for most co-parents is what happens after a life event, such as a remarriage or when a co-parent wants to move to a new city, state or country.

Moving an hour away generally isn’t life changing, but if the other parent gets a new job in a new state, or moves to be closer to their own family, can they take the kids with them? The answer is sometimes yes, but there are many caveats. Each case is unique but there are some recurring issues that might apply for anyone in this situation.

What is the custody agreement?

The most important factor will be your existing custody agreement. If there is sole physical custody, there is good likelihood that a parent can move. The noncustodial parent needs to prove that the move would harm the child to restrict the relocation. This is dependent on your agreement, though. Many agreements are temporary and not permanent agreements. Your agreement is also valid in the state of California only, so an out of state move will require a new agreement.

On a related point, any review today won’t just focus on your court-approved custody agreement. It will focus on your actual co-parenting in recent months. If your actions don’t match the plan, the decision hinges on your actual parenting and not what’s listed in your existing agreement.

What is in the child’s best interest?

For co-parents with joint physical custody, it is likely to be more contentious. If one parent wishes to move and the other opposes it, the onus falls on the child’s best interests. Factors including the child’s age, the opportunity or reason for the move, proximity to close friends and family, education and more will influence the decision. If a parent seeks to move to a new city for a new job at the same level and has no existing social connections in this town, it’s much different than a move based on a life-changing promotion or being closer to grandparents or cousins.

What happens next?

If you suspect the other parent is planning a move, the best plan of action is to consult with an attorney to build your case. Create strong documentation of your parental role and carefully review your existing parenting plan. You have rights to visitation and scheduling in your existing plan. You should maximize these rights and reinforce their necessity. Your ultimate challenge is to prove that your role as a co-parent is what is best for your child.

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