All child custody matters are difficult. Especially if custody is contested and even more so if it involves a parent relocating far away from the other parent (for whatever reason).
Without the appropriate advice and recommendations, one “wrong” decision will not only cost you thousands and thousands of dollars in legal fees (not only your own, but possibly the other side’s fees if you are the one making the “wrong” decision), but can also cost you custody of your child.
It is everyone’s constitutional right to travel – however – that does not mean it is your right to have the child move with you (even if you are the primary caregiver of the child). The Court recognizes that the primary caregiver, also known as the custodial parent may take a child out of the country notwithstanding resulting restrictions to the noncustodial parent’s visitation rights, when the move is in the child’s best interests.
The view that the Maryland court takes toward relocation may reflect an underlying philosophy of whether the interest of the child is best served by the certainty and stability of a primary caretaker, or by ensuring significant day-to-day contact with both parents. Certainly, the relationship that exists between the parents and the child before relocation is of critical importance. If one parent has become the primary caretaker, and the other parent has become an occasional or infrequent visitor, evidencing little interest in day-to-day contact with the child, the adverse effects of a move by the custodial parent will be diminished. On the other hand, where both parents are interested, and are actively involved with the life of the child on a continuing basis, a move of any substantial distance may upset a very desirable environment, and may not be in the best interest of the child.
In light of current psychological research, moving children away from one parent, after a successful joint custody arrangement has been instituted, is rarely in a child’s best interest.
As such, a few general tips/advice for those parents out there considering moving out of state or out of the country and bringing their child:
- The moment you know (or are pretty confident) that you will be moving far away from the other parent, advise the other parent.
- Do not remove the child from the state (for residence purposes), especially if there is a current court order in place and/or agreement.
- Try to involve professionals during the process (child’s psychiatrist, educational professionals, your own psychiatrist, an attorney) when trying to determine how to proceed with handling custody in a relocation matter, before you do anything.
The bottom line: leave as much time as possible to allow you to file a court action (if you cannot amicably resolve the issue) and have the court hear the matter before the move (note a court action can take 6 months to a year and I know that not everyone has that much advance notice of a move, especially if it is work related, but it is nevertheless still important to have open communication and to follow any current court orders and/or agreements). Otherwise this can cost you custody of your child and thousands of dollars in attorneys fees.
This is true even if you hire the best attorney money can buy and the other parent hires the worst attorney. In any family law matter, but especially relocation custody matters, your actions shape the likelihood of success and one “wrong” action by you can cost you dearly.