Can You Relocate with a Parenting Plan in Effect in California?
Divorce often entails major life changes. As you may predict, familial circumstances are never set in stone. Fortunately, California courts understand this.
There are various situations that may warrant modifications to a current custody arrangement. As a child grows, their needs evolve, making it completely reasonable for parental care to evolve with them. This is especially true as the child becomes more independent and starts to develop preferences and opinions of their own.
But children aren’t the only ones whose needs can evolve over time. Likewise, it’s common for parents to encounter the need for environmental changes, from accepting an exciting new career opportunity, relocating to a safer area, or simply wanting a change of scenery.
While navigating the complex child custody laws can be confusing, rest assured that it’s possible to relocate with your child, even with a current parenting plan in effect. Keep reading to learn what steps California parents should take to obtain a favorable outcome in a child custody relocation case.
Understanding Child Custody Laws in California
If you’re hoping to relocate with a child custody order in place, you may be wondering where to begin. What legal obligations must a parent fulfill to relocate with their child? How can a relocation impact your custodial rights?
It’s imperative to comply with the terms of your current court order and follow court procedures meticulously to achieve the result you desire. In California, the custodial parent (the one with whom the child primarily lives) has the right to change residences or move neighborhoods with a child so long as the move doesn’t interfere with the child’s best interests.
However, if a parent wants to relocate a child's home to a place that is far away or otherwise interferes with the current child custody order, they will likely need to make a formal request with the local court, where the matter will be discussed with the other coparent and any other guardians listed on the current visitation schedule.
How Are Child Custody Relocation Cases Determined?
Child custody laws vary from state to state, making it all the more important to understand how child custody works in California. Under California Family Code §7501, a parent “entitled to custody” has the presumptive right to move away.
However, this is never a guarantee, as it depends on the details of the move and whether or not the proposed relocation is in the best interests of the child. While child custody cases can feel immensely personal to the coparents involved, rest assured that the judge’s sole concern is determining what is in the best interests of the child regardless of parental preference.
Ruling in favor of the child’s best interests is always the driving force behind child custody decisions in family court. To reach a decision in a child custody relocation hearing, the judge will first consider two key elements:
- Whether the petitioning parent has sole or joint custody of the child; and
- Whether the physical custody order is a permanent order.
How Can I Tell if My Custody Order Is Permanent?
Generally, a permanent custody order applies if the current custody order was established as part of your final judgment in past legal proceedings (such as a divorce decree or previous custody case).
In other words, if the current arrangement was intended to remain in effect indefinitely or until a substantial change in circumstances warrants its modification, it’s most likely a permanent custody order.
What Factors Are Considered During a Relocation Hearing?
While the best interests of the child will always take priority over all else, it isn’t unusual for the court to consider certain extenuating factors after one parent requests to relocate. Because every family is unique, keep in mind that the applicable factors in one case may not apply to another.
As a general rule, however, parents may find it helpful to prepare for a range of extenuating factors that may impact the judge’s ruling in a child custody relocation hearing. Such factors include (but aren’t limited to):
- The child’s age. It’s reasonable to expect the best interests of a child to fluctuate with age, making this a key element when it comes to the outcome of a child custody relocation case.
- The distance of the move. In the eyes of the court, the greater the distance of the proposed relocation, the more difficult it will be for the child to spend sufficient time with both parents. This, in addition to details like availability and cost of travel, may lead the judge to invest more time and thought when making a decision.
- The reason for the move. Even if the non-petitioning parent objects to the move, the judge may see fit to grant the petitioning parent’s request, so long as the move is in the best interests of the child.
- The child’s relationship with each parent. The court will likely consider how much time the child spends with each parent, in addition to their personal preferences (if age-appropriate).
- The coparents’ relationship. The judge will most likely consider the relationship between the child’s coparents. Have both parents complied with the current order? Are the parents willing to collaborate to best care for the child? Do they practice healthy communication, or bash the other coparent behind their back? The quality of coparenting relations is often a deciding factor in child custody decisions.
Legal Obligations for Parents Wishing to Relocate
Parents wishing to relocate in California must meet certain legal obligations, including:
- Continue to comply with the current custody order. It’s important to adhere to the terms of your current custody arrangement. Failure to comply with your parenting plan during the process can result in violating the other coparent’s rights and a prompt rejection in court.
- Provide sufficient notice. You must notify the nonmoving parent of the intended relocation in writing at least 45 days prior to the move.
Contact a Compassionate Family Lawyer in Orange County
If you or your coparent intends to relocate with a parenting plan in effect, it’s wise to consult with a knowledgeable family lawyer to better understand your rights and the legal options available to you. Fortunately, our firm has extensive experience helping Orange County parents like yourself navigate the complexities of family court.
At Burch Shepard Family Law Group, we know that family comes first. Given our exclusive focus on family law, our passionate team is well-equipped to provide the strong representation and dependable counsel your family needs to achieve peace and resolution. Reach out today to learn how our family law attorneys can help you turn the page and start the new chapter you deserve.
Preparing for a child custody case in Orange County? Call our firm at (949) 565-4158 or contact us online today to schedule a consultation.