Relocating with kids after a divorce is often a necessary action for accepting a new job or moving closer to other family members.
As of May 2019, the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) has been adopted by every state except Massachusetts. The act prevents one parent from moving to another state with their child hoping to get a more favorable custody outcome. The UCCJEA also has a home state rule in which any initial custody determination must be made in the state where the child has lived for the six months leading up to a divorce filing – if the parents are not already divorced.
In South Carolina, a parent with custody of a child or children must give the other parent (whether that parent has shared custody or not) written notice of the plan to move out of the state. If the other parent objects, a family court hearing will be needed for making the decision to determine if the move is in the child’s best interests. If the move is within the state of SC, then the custodial parents are free to relocate with their minor children. The court understands that in relocation cases, both parents may not be fully satisfied, but it will not interfere with an in-state move unless it determines that there is a compelling reason to intervene.
The family court will consider the specific facts of each case and make a decision based on what it views as being in the best interest of the child. In certain states, however, the court works under a presumption that a move is not in the child’s best interest, in which case the parent seeking to relocate has to convince the court that the move will significantly improve the quality of life for the child. Some states use a two-step approach, in which the parent first has to show they are moving for good reason, then the other parent (assuming they object to the move) has to show that the move would cause the child harm.
In determining whether a move is the right thing for the child, a court can look at a variety of aspects such as the nature of the child’s relationship with each parent, the location of other important people in the child’s life, whether the move appears to be an attempt to alienate the child from the other parent, how old the child is, comparative resources and opportunities in each location, and the child’s own preference – depending on his or her age or maturity. The court may choose to appoint a guardian ad litem, a psychologist, an attorney, or other professional specially equipped to investigate the situation and – acting on the child’s behalf – make a recommendation to the court.
These situations can be complicated, as some recent cases have shown. In one instance, a divorced mother in Rhode Island sought to move with her 5 year old and 7 year old children to Ohio, where her own family lived. During the marriage, the father, a doctor, was the sole breadwinner while the mother was the primary caregiver. When they divorced, they were given joint legal custody, though the mother had primary physical custody. A family court judge denied the mother’s request, focusing heavily on the kids’ relationship with their father and his own parents who lived nearby.
On appeal, the Rhode Island mother argued that the family court wrongly disregarded the better housing and employment opportunities available for her in Ohio, the short time the children actually lived in Rhode Island before the divorce, and how much more she had been involved in the children’s upbringing, and the support network she had available in Ohio. The Rhode Island Supreme Court disagreed, finding that the mother had not proven that her employment opportunities and the kids’ emotional well-being would be significantly better in Ohio. The court also pointed out that the father’s family also provided the kids with a strong support network as well.
In a different case, Massachusetts’ highest court ruled that a divorcing mother would be allowed to take her daughter to her native Germany. The couple had met and married overseas and the mother had only briefly lived in the U.S. at the time of the divorce. Meanwhile, the child had already spent significant time in Germany, while the father, who was American, wasn’t making enough money from his job with a nonprofit to meet his child support obligations – and there was no extended support system for the child in Massachusetts. Additionally, though the child had a loving relationship with her father, he was frequently away for work and missed visitations that he did not attempt to make up. Accordingly, the court upheld a trial judge’s ruling that it was in the child’s best interest to relocate with her mother.
These cases can be very fact-dependent. If you are thinking of relocating (or your ex wants to move away with your child), talk to a family lawyer at The Floyd Law Firm, PC. Family law matters can redefine the most personal and important parts of your life. It is essential that you focus on where you want your children to be in the future.
Our Surfside Beach Attorneys are here to help you to make any necessary legal updates that reflect your current situation or changes in your life’s circumstances – such as divorce, child custody, moving to a new location, having grandchildren, the loss of a loved one, or starting a new business.