Today, it is not uncommon for families to complete a major relocation once or twice in their life. However, moving to another city, county, state, or even country can have major repercussions for families with separated parents taking care of their child in accordance with a court-ordered custody arrangement. Relocation plans could serve as the basis for modifying the existing custody plan to one that better suits a situation or environment that serves the best interests of the parties’ minor child.

Modifications in General

California courts will only modify an order if a material change in circumstances justifies changing its original terms. The circumstances in question must be materially different from the circumstances applicable at the time the court issued the order. For example, modifying a child custody order requires a showing that a change in circumstances makes the current child custody arrangement not the best option to serve the child’s best interest. The relevant change in circumstances can either involve a better custody arrangement or something making the newer custody arrangement untenable.

Relocation as a Material Change in Circumstances

Whether relocation warrants modification of a current custody agreement depends on the initial arrangement—whether the parents shared joint custody or one parent had primary custody.

Joint custody: Custody determinations are based on factors that relate to the best interests of the parties’ child. Joint custody entails sharing custody of a child such that no single parent has substantially more time with the child than the other. A court order for joint custody implies that the court considered it to be the best custody option under the circumstances.

For example, joint custody would be appropriate if both parents lived close enough where they both could alternate living with the child and taking care of them easily. The decision to relocate could jeopardize the joint-custody arrangement and warrant awarding sole custody to one of the parents.

Primary custody: Often, a parent who already has sole custody of a child might have plans to relocate. The non-custodial parent has the burden of showing how relocation does not serve the best interests of the child. This requires the court to analyze different factors to determine whether the custodial parent’s relocation justifies changing the custody arrangement to something else.

Factors in deciding whether relocation warrants a custody change include:

  • The child’s interest in the stability and continuity of the current custody arrangement
  • The distance involved in relocating
  • The age of the child
  • The nature of the relationship between the child and their parents
  • The relationship between the parents and their willingness and ability to communicate
  • If they are mature enough, the child’s wishes
  • The reasons behind relocating
  • The extent to which the parents already share custody

Get Comprehensive Legal Advice at Moshtael Family Law

If you or your child’s other parent are moving, you should consult an experienced attorney who can review the legal implications of moving with you. At Moshtael Family Law, we have offices located in Irvine and Laguna Nigel so we can provide quality legal counsel to families throughout Orange County.

Call us at (714) 909-2561 or complete our online request form to schedule a free initial consultation about your case today.

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