Effects of Relocation on Child Custody

The Effect of Relocation on Child Custody Arrangements:

Where one parent moves a long distance away from the other parent, difficulties often arise. Some parties specifically adopt UCA 30-3-37 (a long distance parent time statute) to address it.  However if the parties cannot agree that the children should be relocated, that often creates a basis for one party to attempt to change child custody.   Unfortunately, the Utah Supreme Court and Court of Appeals have not given us a clear indication of how to analyze this scenario when sorting out the child’s best interests.  However, in 2010, the judges were trained on certain factors the court should consider, including:

  1. History of Involvement by Noncustodial Parent (including post separation)
    1. Regular quality time, attending activities, medical visits, etc.?
  2. Geographical Distance
    1. More than 1 hour drive (75 miles) interferes with continuous spontaneous parenting.
    2. More likely to fundamentally alter bond between parent and child.
    3. Financial burden, which families may not be equipped to carry to maintain relationship
  3. Cognitive and Emotional Status of the Child
    1. Has child shown distress, anxiety, etc?
    2. Special needs heightening benefit of 2 parent care?
    3. Psych condition that move would exacerbate (e.g., ADHD impact on loss of structure)
    4. Degree of child’s coping skills?
  4. Attachment of the Child to the Parents (not other way around)
    1. Is there clear difference in level of attachment to the parents?
    2. Who does child rely on when anxious or sick or in need?
    3. Does child articulate difference in trust level?
    4. What has the level of conflict been between child and parent?
    5. Basically, who is the psychological parent?
  5. Psychological Health of Both Parents
    1. Either parent have mental illness? (mental illness = poor parental coping with the move)
    2. Competent parenting by a nearby nonresidential parent is not sufficient to buffer the adverse effects of custodial parent pathology and poor parenting on children
    3. High levels of parental stress = poor child coping with move or other life event
    4. What has moving parent done to actively promote child’s relationship with the other parent, before and after move?
    5. Is the custodial parent hostile or dissatisfied? (This is associated with restriction of visits)
    6. Can custodial parent actively help young child refresh/retain memory of absent parent?
    7. Is noncustodial parent psychologically healthy?  Will they help child adapt to relocation?
  6. Psychological Adjustment and Parenting Skills of Nonmoving Parents
    1. Active and appropriate parenting by both parents will enhance ability of noncustodial parent to maintain relationship.
    2. Has the noncustodial parent demonstrated little/no interest in kids?  If so, move may have little/no negative impact.
    3. Is nonmoving parent neglectful, abusive, violent, mentally ill, dangerous, inadequate?  If so, young children may struggle but be protected from damage that exposure to chronically harmful parent.
  7. Extent and Focus of Conflict
    1. Are parents capable of insulating child from conflict?
    2. Has parent attempted to convince child of his/her perspective in relocating?
    3. Has the moving parent excited child about move prior to matter being decided?
    4. If  high conflict is present continually, relocation may eliminate repeated trauma of violence or aggression and may be beneficial
  8. History of Child or Spouse Maltreatment
    1. Is a powerful predictor of mental health and coping ability
    2. Only parallel parenting (not joint decision making) is advise
    3. Relocation may be consistent with the need for fewer transition times for the exchange of the child, less communication and more structured parenting time.
  9. Motivations for Choice to Move
    1. Moving parent have stable home/employment prior to choice to move?
    2. Moving parent voluntarily quit gainful employment/give up housing etc.?
    3. Choice associated with stress resulting from initial separation?
    4. Choice due to wish for “emotional support” or new romantic relationship?
    5. Motivated by valid or invalid fear of other parent?
    6. Nonmoving parent been cooperative in providing financial and co parenting support?
    7. Is the move unavoidable?
    8. Motivated by custodial parent’s wish to thwart other parents relationship with kids?
    9. Can the moving parent appreciate the potentially negative impact on the children, including the relationship with the other parent?
  10. Age of the Child
    1. Changing age and development of child should be a substantial change in circumstance to alter the parenting plan post location
    2. Older children’s preferences should be considered
    3. 0 to 7 months – if custodial parent relocates, attached relationships with other parent unlikely
    4. 7 to 24 months – infants and toddlers need regular interactions  to create/maintain their relationships.  Relocation resulting in absence of this weakens or eliminates attachments to nonmoving parents.
    5. 7 to 36 months wil experience depression and anxiety with loss of attachment figure.  They do not have the cognitive and communication skills to help them cope with the loss.
    6. Older children (at least age 3) have increasingly better ability to cope.
  11. Recency of Separation and Divorce
    1. Recent marital separation can be additional trauma
  12. Child’s Degree of Involvement with Community and Extended Family
  13. Higher Harm associated with:
    1. Younger age of children
    2. High noncustodial involvement
    3. Lower individual resources (coping skills, attachment figures) available to child
    4. Poor coping skills by the custodial parent
    5. Longer geographical distance of relocation
    6. Recent marital separation
  14. Less Harm is associated with:
    1. Older ages of children
    2. Low parental conflict
    3. High individual resources (coping skills, attachment figures) available to child.
    4. Good coping skills by custodial parent (e.g., willingness to promote relationship with other parent)
    5. Shorter distance

General Information

As a Child Welfare Law Specialist, Child Custody Lawyer Kelly Peterson is uniquely qualified to address questions you may have about the impact of relocation on a child custody agreement.  Whether you are the party initiating the move or not, it is important to understand not only the impacts that relocation can have on your child but also the implications to for any existing or future child custody arrangements.  To discuss the details of your case, call the Law Office of Kelly Peterson at (801) 616-3301 today!

Law Office of Kelly Peterson
226 W 2230 N #105
Provo, UT 84604
(801) 616-3301

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*Child Welfare Law Specialist Nat’l Assoc. of Counsel for Children