When parents no longer live together and have minor children, there are circumstances where one of the parents may wish to relocate with the children. This scenario leads to some of the most difficult custody decisions and battles, especially if the decision to relocate is made after the divorce or entry of judgment of final custody and parenting plan orders.
1. If I have a court-ordered parenting plan for physical custody of our minor children with their other parent, can I relocate and take our children with me?
Under Connecticut law, if the divorce or entry of judgment has been finalized, the court will consider whether the move will have a significant impact on the parenting plan that has been created.
For example, when both parents live close to one another and have a shared parenting plan, if one parent would like to move with the children 45 minutes away, the first consideration would be whether moving 45 minutes away would have a significant impact on the existing court-ordered parenting plan. If you have a plan in which there are multiple transitions during the week and both parents have meaningful weekday and weekend parenting time, such a move is more likely to have a significant impact. If one parent has alternating weekends with the children and weeknight dinner, it may or may not have a significant impact.
However, if the move will have a significant impact on the parenting plan, and the other parent opposes it, you as the relocating parent would have the burden of proof to show that the relocation is for a legitimate purpose; that the proposed location is reasonable in light of such purpose; and that the relocation is in the “best interest of the children.” In considering whether to allow a parent to move with the children, a court will consider the following:
- 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 quality of the child’s future contact with the nonrelocating parent
- Economic, emotional, and educational enhancements to the relocating parent and child’s lives
- The feasibility of preserving the relationship between the non-relocating parent and child through access arrangements
It is important to note that some court-ordered parenting plans or judgments have relocation provisions in place that state where you may be allowed to move with appropriate notice to the other parent regardless of the parent’s consent or a process for resolving relocation disputes prior to returning to the court for assistance.
Due to the factually specific nature of relocation cases, you should consult with Ruel Ruel Burns Feldman & Britt’s relocation lawyers who have substantial experience with moves within and outside of Connecticut.
2. What if my divorce/child custody judgment has not been finalized yet?
If you are interested in relocating with your children before the divorce or entry of judgment, you will not have the same burden of proof as you would if you relocated after the entry of judgment. At this stage, there is no parenting plan yet; the parties are still developing a plan. The court will do a “best interest” analysis to determine what is in the best interest of the children. Although not required to consider, a court is likely to consider the best interest factors set forth in Connecticut General Statutes § 46b-56d(b).
Let’s say you are seeking to move to New Jersey because your extended family is in the area, you are getting a great job that would allow you to be more economically secure, and the educational opportunities in New Jersey are superior. The court would likely consider these factors, along with others, to determine if moving to New Jersey is in the best interest of the children.
The court will be evaluating the degree to which the relationship between the child and the nonrelocating parent can be preserved in relocation cases before and after the entry of judgment.
When there are no final parenting plan or financial orders in place yet, parents can be creative in solving for the economics and child-parent relationship issues that often arise in a relocation case. If you are able to address the issue of relocation prior to the entry of judgment, you may also be able to minimize resources spent on resolving the issues.
3. If you know you want to relocate down the road, is it best to do it before the custody order?
Generally speaking, yes. Before the divorce, neither parent has a particular burden of proving anything; the determination will be made after the court considers all the relevant factors to analyze what’s in the best interest of the children. You will not have to show that the move is for a “legitimate purpose” and that the move is reasonable in light of that legitimate purpose.
Post-judgment, for example, if you wanted to leave Connecticut to accept a favorable position in a Midwestern town and to be closer to your new significant other who also worked in the Midwestern town, the significant other may not be deemed a “legitimate” reason to uproot and move the children. Relocating for a better employment opportunity may be deemed a “legitimate” purpose, but the court may want to know what you have done to try to secure a similar position closer to Connecticut.
If a parent is allowed to relocate with the children, the court will focus on preserving the relationship between the children and their non-moving parent. If the children are too far away to see on weekends, the non-moving parent may get more time in the summer and holidays.
4. Does the age of the children/children’s wishes have an impact?
Yes, the children’s ages and informed preferences will be taken into consideration. Moving away would be more disruptive to the social network of middle school-age children, who have to leave their existing school, friends and sports teams, than it would be for a 2- or 3-year-old.
If a parent wants to relocate a considerable distance away with a 3-month-old, the court will consider the feasibility of preserving the relationship between a child of this age with the non-moving parent. If an infant goes a month without seeing his parent, he may forget who the parent is.
5. Does technology impact relocation?
Now that the pandemic has increased familiarity and comfort levels with technologies like Zoom and Facetime, courts have begun to consider the ability of modern technology to help preserve relationships between children and non-moving parents. Time spent connecting over technology may be worked into a parenting plan, which also incorporates expanded or more substantive in-person time together during school or summer breaks and holidays.
If you are going through a divorce or have a court-ordered custody and parenting plan agreement and are seeking to relocate or oppose a proposed relocation with your children, contact the Connecticut family law attorneys at Ruel Ruel Burns Feldman & Britt, LLC at 860-206-9096.