Child custody is often one of the most contentious issues in a Virginia divorce, or in a family law matter in which parents separate and have minor children from their relationship. When one or both parents share custody of their children, issues can arise in which one of the parents wants to relocate.
Sometimes a parent wants to relocate as a result of a new job opportunity, or due to a remarriage. However, it is extremely important for parents to ensure that they are not violating Virginia child custody law or the terms of an existing child custody order. If you share minor children with your ex, regardless of whether you are divorced, separated and still married, or separated but never married, you should know about some key issues in a relocation.
Relocations Require 30-Day Notice to the Other Parent
If you are planning a relocation and you share custody of your child with the child’s other parent, Virginia law requires at least thirty days’ advance written notice of the intention to relocate. That notice must include your intended change of address (unless the court says otherwise).
Relocation May Be Easier if the Other Parent Agrees
In general, if the other parent agrees to a relocation, it may be relatively easy to move and to modify an existing parenting time or visitation arrangement. However, if the other parent does not agree, then you will need to ask the court to agree to the relocation.
Modifying a Child Custody Decree in Virginia
If the other parent does not agree to the relocation, you will need to petition the court. When you petition the court, you will likely be asking the court to modify an existing child custody order, decree, or arrangement. In order for the court to grant a child custody modification, the parent seeking the modification usually will need to show that a significant or material change in circumstances has occurred, and that the relocation is in the best interests of the child.
You Should Familiarize Yourself with the “Best Interests of the Child” Factors
The court looks at many different factors in considering what is in the best interests of the child. If you need to seek a modification due to a planned relocation, you should familiarize yourself with those factors (or re-familiarize yourself if you learned about the factors during your divorce). Factors can include, for example: child’s preference if the child is mature enough to express a reasonable preference, child’s needs, each parent’s relationship with the child, child’s age, child’s physical and mental health, and the role each parent has played in the child’s upbringing.
You Should Think About the “Best Interests of the Child” Standard and How It Might Involve Psychological Effects of a Relocation
According to an article in Psychology Today, moving is particularly common after a divorce, and even more so when the divorce involves children. Many parents want to get a fresh start in a new home, and some want to get a fresh start in a new city. Yet if a relocation is not necessary for a job or another significant change in the parent’s circumstances, it is particularly important to consider the “best interests of the child” standard and how it is likely to be reflected in the relocation.
As the Psychology Today article underscores, moving or relocation is often especially difficult and sometimes even traumatic for children. As such, if there is not a clear need for a relocation, moving may not necessarily be in the child’s best interests.
Contact a Virginia Child Custody Attorney Today
When you experience a material change in circumstances and need to relocate, you may need to modify the terms of your existing child custody decree. An experienced Fairfax child custody attorney can assist you. Contact Dougherty Tobias Iszard, Northern Virginia Law, P.C. today for more information.