After a marriage breaks down, some litigants choose to move closer to family. Career opportunities and career paths in a global economy frequently necessitate relocation to other states or internationally. When interstate or international relocation is coupled with a child custody dispute, the legal issues become more complex. A significant distance between households create limitations on potential shared-custody and visitation options.
In Connecticut, the Automatic Orders take effect when a party initiates a divorce proceeding. The orders prohibit divorcing parents from moving away with children without consent of the other parent or permission and authority from the court.
Litigating Relocation During Divorce
When the issue of relocation arises during divorce, the court will weigh the circumstances and evidence in an effort to serve the best interests of the child(ren). Courts is required to assess one or more of sixteen enumerated factors to adjudicate initial custody disputes. A non-exhaustive example of the factors includes:
- The temperament and individual needs of the child, as well as the ability of each parent to understand those needs
- The preferences of the child, as well as wishes of each parent
- The child’s cultural background
- The child’s relationship with each of the parents
- The child’s adjustment to the home, community and school
In many respects, litigating relocation matters in divorce is very similar to any custody dispute. The impact of the relocation among the range of factors is the main distinction. Judges have wide discretion in these issues. The court is not required to provide equal weight to each of the factors. The range of factors allow the court to evaluate the evidence in each individual case.
Relocating When A Custody Order Exists
We live in a mobile society. Life and residency are not always static. Many relocation disputes arise years after a divorce is finalized. When a parent seeks to modify an existing order in a post-judgment setting, the relocating parent has the burden of proving that the move is for a legitimate purpose, the destination of the relocation is consistent with the purpose, and the relocation will serve the best interests of the child.
To determine the best interests of the child in a post-judgment dispute, Conn. Gen. Stats. (2019) 46b-56d(b) sets forth these factors:
- Each parent’s reasons for seeking or opposing the relocation
- The quality of the relationships between the child and each parent
- The impact of the relocation on the quantity and the quality of the child’s future contact with the nonrelocating parent
- The degree to which the relocating parent’s and the child’s life may be enhanced economically, emotionally and educationally by the relocation
- The feasibility of preserving the relationship between the nonrelocating parent and the child through suitable visitation arrangements.
Parents often have difficulty comprehending what is meant by “the best interests of the child” and how that standard is applied by the Court. It is common for a parent to conclude that “it is my child’s best interest to be with me” and to be unprepared to provide the Court with facts in support of that conclusion. It is important to have a solid strategy that shows how each factor supports your position, whether you are seeking to relocate or oppose an effort for the other parent to move away. An experienced lawyer can assist a litigant in identifying and effectively presenting these facts to the Court in a clear and digestible manner in what is often a lengthy and complicated processes.