Parental Relocation

America is a nation on the move. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 39.6 million people moved in the United States between 2012 and 2013, with approximately 9.8 million (24.7%) moving 500 miles or more away from their former residence. Moving with children is not uncommon following a divorce. A parent may seek to relocate for any number of reasons including a new partner; better employment opportunities; health issues; job-related, military or government transfers; or to live closer to a family member who requires their support or will provide it. Relocation cases can be highly contentious and difficult. Moreover, long-distance co-parenting can be exceptionally challenging. The long-distance parent must work especially hard to remain connected and involved in the child’s life. The relocating parent must honor these efforts and not seek to undermine or wholly frustrate the development of a healthy long-distance parenting relationship. And together, both parents must help the child adjust to this alternative arrangement and not feel abandoned or cast aside by the parent who “stayed behind”.

Is court permission required if one parent wants to move away with the child?

If the non-moving parent consents to the move or, if the Separation Agreement/Parenting Plan or prior court order permits a future move, court permission is typically not required (although the parties will likely submit an amended parenting plan addressing the logistics of the new long-distance parenting relationship, for the court’s approval). However, if one parent challenges the relocation, the court must decide if the move is in the child’s “best interests.”

What distance constitutes a relocation?

Some parenting plans contain a “radius provision” which prevents each parent from moving a specified distance away from the other. In the absence of a radius provision, there is no legally prescribed relocation distance. A relocation is any move which “substantially changes the geographical ties between the child and the other party.” This includes moves within Colorado as well as moves outside the state.

Can the court order a parent to live in Colorado?

While the court can deny a request to relocate with a child, the court is not authorized to require that a parent live in a particular location. Instead, the court may make the parent who intends to remain in Colorado the primary residential parent or prohibit the relocating parent from removing the child from the state.

Must the relocating parent provide advance written notice of the proposed move to the other parent?

A parent seeking to relocate with the parties’ child must provide the other parent with a written notice of the proposed relocation which includes information about the timing and new location as well as the reason(s) for the move. In addition, the relocating parent must provide the other parent with a new parenting plan which includes a proposed long-distance parenting schedule.

What factors does the court consider when determining if a proposed move is in the child’s “best interests”?

If the request to relocate is made during the pendency of a divorce or in connection with an initial allocation of parental responsibilities, the court will apply the same “best interests” factors utilized in allocating parenting time, including the ability of the parents to cooperate and make decisions about the child together; each parent’s history of past involvement with the child; whether there are is evidence of child abuse, neglect or domestic violence; the physical proximity of the parents; the ability of each parent to encourage the sharing of love, affection and contact between the child and the other parent and the ability of each parent to place the needs of the child first. The court may also consider the wishes of the parents regarding parenting time and those of the child – if the child is deemed to be sufficiently mature to express a reasoned and independent preference.

If the request to relocate is made after a parenting plan has been ordered by the court, the court will consider the same “best interests” criteria noted above and, in addition, will examine:

  • the reason(s) for the relocation;
  • the reason(s) for the objection to the relocation;
  • the history and quality of each party’s relationship with the child since any previous parenting order;
  • the educational opportunities for the child at his present residence and in the proposed new location;
  • the presence or absence of extended family in both locations;
  • the advantages, if any, of the child remaining with the primary caregiver;
  • the anticipated impact of the move on the child;
  • whether it is possible to create a reasonable parenting schedule if the relocation is permitted; and
  • any other relevant factors which impact the “best interests” of the child.

How does a parenting plan “typically” address a proposed relocation?

Long-distance parenting adds an extra layer of complexity to a parenting plan. For example, long-distance parenting exchanges may entail out-of-state travel. Possible issues for consideration include: a listing of the acceptable methods of travel; if the child will be flying – which airports will be used, where the actual exchange will occur and whether only direct flights will be permissible; who will bear responsibility for the child’s transportation costs; whether the child can travel alone and, if not, who must accompany the child during travel; how far in advance any travel arrangements must be booked and who will be responsible for securing any necessary tickets/reservations. A long-distance visitation schedule will also be different in that regular weekly visits will likely not be feasible. A “typical” long-distance parenting schedule may award most of the child’s holidays to the long-distance parent, including several (and sometimes all) weeks of summer vacation. The long-distance parent will likely want to provide for frequent telephone, email and instant messaging communication with the child as well regularly scheduled virtual visits through a video conference application such as Skype or Facetime. These are just a representative sampling of some of the “typical” issues which parents must address when formulating a long-distance parenting plan.