How Does Relocation Affect Child Custody?

People choose to relocate for a multitude of reasons. If a parent has to move due to a job transfer, a desire to experience another part of the country, or to pursue a relationship with a new significant other, it is important to consider how a child custody agreement will be affected.

Legal and Physical Child Custody Considerations

There are two types of child custody in the state of New Jersey. Legal custody refers to a parent or guardian’s right to have a say in crucial decisions regarding the child’s well-being, such as medical care and education. Parents with joint legal custody share these major parenting decisions.

Physical custody refers to where and with which parent the child lives. Joint physical custody allows a child to spend nearly the same amount of time living with both parents. Family courts determine custody arrangements based on what is best for the child. Joint custody makes sense when both parents are responsible, stable, and truly invested in playing an active role in their child’s upbringing. When that is not the case, the court may award one parent primary custody.

New Jersey Child Custody Laws

Parents with shared custody must go through the proper channels to move away from the other parent. Court permission is need for the other parent to move out of New Jersey or far enough away from the other parent that it could impact a visitation schedule. New Jersey law requires this for parents of a minor born or who has lived in New Jersey for at least five years. If the other parent is not on board and refuses to sign a consent order, the court must grant permission. In that case, a parent can file a motion in superior court, essentially asking for legal approval to move.

Some inter-state moves are treated like out-of-state relocations because even if a parent stays in New Jersey, their homes could still be hours apart. That makes weekly visits more challenging, particularly for parents who work full-time and for children with school, social, and extracurricular obligations. If a move will create significant distance between households, parents will need to revise their visitation schedules.

Do I Need Permission to Move Out of New Jersey if I Have Primary Custody?

Even if a child resides primarily with one parent, a parent will still need approval from the other parent or the courts. If a co-parent is against the move, the relocating parent must prove that relocation is the best thing for their child. Relocating out of state can have a lasting impact on a child’s emotional and physical health. Not only will they be further away from their other parent, they may be leaving all that is familiar behind. This can be particularly challenging for older children who have create lasting bonds with friends and neighbors.

The courts weigh the following decisions heavily, considering many different factors before permitting or prohibiting a parent from moving a child out of New Jersey:

  • The past story of both parents
  • The reason for moving
  • The non-custodial parent’s reasons for opposing the move
  • If a fair and effective visitation schedule is feasible
  • The impact of a move on extended family
  • If the relocating parent will encourage a relationship with the child’s other parent after the move
  • If the child is safe with the custodial parent
  • What the child wants if they are of age

The court also considers each child’s unique medical, educational, and recreational needs and assesses if these needs can be met in a new location. For example, consider a child who is gifted academically. The courts will examine if their new school district offer the resources and services they need to excel as compared to their current school.

Is a Move in Good Faith?

After reviewing the factors above, the court decides if the relocating parent has a good faith reason to move the child away from the other parent. A move in good faith is overall good for the child and not inimical to their best interests. The court will likely grant the request if the relocating parent can show they are moving in good faith. If the non-custodial parent opposes the move, they need to prove it is not the best thing for the child.

Visitation When Parents Live in Different States

Relocating parents also need to prepare and present a schedule for parenting time that allows a child to maintain a strong relationship with their other parent. It should address:

  • Transportation arrangements
  • A plan for the child to visit the non-custodial parent
  • A plan for the child’s other parent to visit them in their new home state
  • Specific visitation schedule that accounts for summers and major holidays
  • Plans to maintain communication with the non-custodial parent

If the other parent objects to the move, they will counter the request with a formal reply that addresses any inaccuracies in the documents. From there, hearings are scheduled with each parent. Both parents have an opportunity to verify the facts at hand and make a case for why they feel a move is right or wrong for the child.

Tips for Encouraging Communication with Out-Of-State Parents

If an out-of-state move is approved, parents have an obligation to encourage regular communication between their child and the other parent. Research shows children of divorce can thrive without lasting negative effects on their academics, social skills, or mental health. It is even better for children when both parents are stable and involved, even if they do not live in the same house.

Fortunately, modern technology allows people to connect within seconds, no matter how far apart physically they are. The following are easy ways to help children with out-of-state parents foster a lasting and meaningful relationship with parents at a distance:

  • Encourage children to check-in with their other parent with daily texts and calls.
  • Schedule time for frequent Skype or Facetime video calls.
  • Send a care package when the child is visiting the other parent.
  • Keep a consistent routine between both homes.
  • Be flexible and open to compromise regarding parenting time.

With the blessing of a non-custodial parent or the court, relocation to a new state can be a positive experience for children. Keep the lines of communication open, adhere to New Jersey custody laws, and seek the guidance of a trusted divorce lawyer for a smooth move and a brand-new start.

Somerville Child Custody Lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. Help Clients with Relocation Issues

Making a move without your ex-spouse’s consent may jeopardize your custodial rights. At Lyons & Associates, P.C., our Somerville child custody lawyers are here to inform and empower you to make smart decisions according to state custody laws. Do not be discouraged if your request is denied. We can help prove a move offers the brightest future possible for you and your child. To schedule an initial consultation, call 908-575-9777 or submit an online inquiry today. Our offices are located in Somerville and Morristown, New Jersey, and we serve clients throughout Morris Plains, Madison, Randolph, Chatham, Short Hills, Rockaway, Parsippany, Woodbridge, and Somerset.