The Post-Divorce-Parenting Glossary

Divorced-Parenting Term

Parental Relocation

What is parental relocation?

Parental relocation is a child custody situation where one parent attempts to relocate children away from the other parent.  In family law, parental relocation is a common cause of high-conflict parenting and litigation.

What does parental relocation with divorced families entail?

There are many reasons a parent may decide to relocate with a child. The plethora of reasons a divorced parent may want to relocate range from financial and improving their quality-of-life to wanting to distance themselves from their ex partner. Divorced parents wanting to relocate need to be aware of the potential legal issues involved with parental relocation.  Furthermore, parents should consider the negative effects that the children likely will experience as a result of living far from one of their parents.

When the motives for relocating are primarily to distance oneself from an ex partner, thus limiting the noncustodial parent's contact with the children, the court may rule that relocation is not in the best interests of the children.

Limiting a parent's contact with a child is also limiting that child's contact with the parent. Child-centered parenting acknowledges that children should grow up with a deep and meaningful relationship with both parents.  Relocating for the purpose of getting away from the other parent is, by definition, not child-centered.  Furthermore, relocating for the purpose of getting away from the other parent typically backfires and leads to other significant problems, such as a second round of expensive litigation, resentment, and very high levels of conflict between parents.

How does parental relocation fit in with the best interest of the child standard?

The intent of the best interests of the child standard is to consider the perspective of the child before the needs of the parents; however, family courts often rule in ways that don't truly do what is in the best interests of the children.  Part of the reason for this is that different states have different interpretations of family law.  Even within one state, judges may interpret the law differently.  In this sense, the best interest standard is not standard at all; it is a framework that is intended to guide family courts in a decision that is in the children's best interests, but it often fails to truly do that in accordance with child-centered divorce guidelines.  Proof of this is simply fact that different courts rule in different ways on the very same case.

From the parents' perspective, if they were to actually consider the best interests of their own children, they would make relocating an absolute last resort.  As children grow older, the children will innately wish to have a stable life close to their friends.  Complying with a long-distance visitation schedule significantly disrupts the children's lives.  The ability to engage in extra-curricular activities that require weekend commitments is impossible when a long-distance parental relationship exists.  This can, and often does, lead the children to resent the entire situation.

What are some of the negative effects that parental relocation can cause?

Multiple studies have shown that children of divorce experience the following negative effects:



  • Lower grades
  • Increase school drop out rates
  • An increased rate of sexual activity as a teenager
  • An increased likelihood of teen smoking
  • Lower social skills
  • A greater chance of being divorced themselves
  • An increased likelihood to experiment with illegal substances
  • An increase rate of being being incarcerated

There is a problem with these types of studies, however.  The problem is that they are correlational studies.  Correlational studies do not show cause; they only show a relationship.  For example, a correlational study about hats and baldness might show that more bald people wear hats.  But does that mean hats cause baldness, or does baldness cause people to where hats?  Perhaps there is another cause not even considered.

To assume that divorce is the cause of all of the negative effects on children after the divorce, fails to do the much harder task of learning the true cause.  Divorce is certainly related to these negative problems, but there is much more to the story.  As stated in the article 9 negative effects divorce reportedly has on children, "Divorce can be the first in a string of dominos that knock a kid down."  There is a great deal of additional research that shows that how the parents handle the child custody relationship after the divorce has a very good chance of averting the serious psychological problems that children can face.  The primary cause of the negative consequences discussed above can be attributed to two facets of the post-divorce parenting relationship" 1) high conflict, and 2) stress experienced by the child.

With regard to parental relocation, both conflict and stress are likely to increase because of the situation.  Conflict often goes up because of the resentment felt by the noncustodial parent that the custodial parent created by relocating or attempting to relocate without properly discussing it collaboratively.  Likewise, stress increases because of this conflict.

Studies have also shown that there tends to be certain distances that affect the child custody schedule in different ways.  When parents live less than 20 minutes from each other, impromptu visits and frequent contact often occur with both parents.  This tends to make for a very strong parent/child bond with both parents.  Between 20 minutes to 1 hour apart, the impromptu visits diminish significantly; however, the parents still live close enough where a long drive is not a factor, and often extracurricular activities on weekends for the children can still be made possible if the parents commit to them.  Beyond 1 hour apart, the chance of the children participating in extracurricular activities that require weekend commitments essentially disappears because of the visitation schedule.  The relationship that the child has with the noncustodial parent becomes much more formal, creating potential bonding issues.

What is UCCJEA and how does it relate to parent relocation?

In a parental relocation case, the family court is supposed to consider the status quo of where the child has resided and established significant connections.  Courts have acknowledged that parental relocation typically disrupts the child's life, yet parental relocation is still approved by family courts in many cases, despite this acknowledgment.

To reduce instances of disputed parental relocation, the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) was created.   The UCCJEA has evolved to clarify status quo by defining the state in which the child has resided for the past six months as the "home state".  This legislation evolved to prevent parent's from abruptly leaving a state to forum shop for a more favorable jurisdiction in another state.  The UCCJEA relates to the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act (PKPA) and is meant to prevent parental kidnapping or snatch-and-grab situations.

Do the laws regarding parental relocation and child custody vary between states?
Unfortunately, despite the UCCJEA , PKPA, and the best interest of the child standard the laws regarding parental relocation vary considerably from state-to-state. In fact, when one considers the amount of difference between states in these legal matters, one is struck by how arbitrary the law seems with regard to custody and parent/child relocation. Historically, prior to the UCCJEA custodial parents were more able to relocate to other states and courts tended to favor the custodial parents desire to relocate.  Today, many states still lean in this direction while other states lean toward maintaining the status quo and honoring the non-custodial parent's objections to their children being relocated.

Some states require that the non-custodial parent be notified well in advance, while other states permit a parent to relocate without notifying the other parent. For example, the state of Ohio requires that a parent provide to the court and the other parent a notice of intent to relocate. The court then reviews the reasons for relocating before approving the relocation.  The fact remains that the different interpretations that family courts have on parental relocation creates an enormous legal problem that has yet to be corrected, and until it is corrected, the children involved in parental relocation disputes are likely to continue to suffer significant negative consequences.

What are some of the different ways a family court considers parental relocation cases?

Jurisdiction is a crucial factor in the outcome of parent/child relocation cases. Some states and jurisdictions presume that relocating is not in the best interest of the child.  In these jurisdictions the burden of proof is on the parent who is wanting to relocate to demonstrate that it is in the child's best interest. The non-custodial parent simply adheres to the presumption of the court.

Other states presume the wishes of the custodial parent to relocate are in the child's best interests. Therefore, the inverse happens; the burden of proof lies with non-custodial parent. It is important to consult a family law attorney and consider both the laws of the applicable state(s) as well as if jurisdiction is in another state.

Ideally, if a parent needed to relocate, the parent wanting to relocate would notify the other parent well in advance so that the other parent might have enough time to prepare.  But, the custodial parent might have a legal advantage to not disclose their intent to relocate, which is yet another problem with how family law fails to do what is actually in the children's best interests.  Family law attorneys may advise the custodial parent to not inform the noncustodial parent in order to have a better chance of winning the parental relocation case, despite the damage the situation is likely to have on the children.

In some jurisdictions, not providing notification of intent to relocate can hurt the case to relocate.  Divorce decrees may specify the amount of time a parent is to notify the other parent prior to moving with the children.  In a joint legal custody arrangements, parents are expected to discuss major decisions regarding their children, such as relocating, and attempt to reach agreement.

What are factors does a court consider in a divorced parent's request to relocate their children?

Each case regarding custody and relocation can differ to greater or lesser degrees. As discussed above, the overarching principle in any legal matter regarding children is the best interests of the children. Yet, the jurisdiction where a final parenting plan and divorce decree was initially created greatly impacts which laws apply.  If the primary custodial parent petitions the court to relocate the children, the court may hear arguments from both the petitioner (custodial parent) and the respondent (non-custodial parent) as to why relocating the children is or is not in the children's best interests.

When a parent objects to relocation they attempt to demonstrate how relocating their children is disruptive and detrimental to their children's welfare.  The following are important factors that the court may consider when deciding the merits of a parent’s request to relocate:


  • The quality of the relationship that the child has with each parent. This can be assessed based on the amount of involvement, perceived stability, and contextual or situational factors;
  • Prior arrangements or agreements of the parents;
  • Weighing what would be more detrimental, disrupting the contact with the non-custodial parent or the custodial parent if the custodial parent is having to relocate;
  • Has there been neglect, domestic violence, or abuse involved by one or both parents;
  • The age of the child and level of maturity can be an important factor. The court may take into consideration the preference of a child, especially if he or she is older;
  • The specific developmental needs of the children and the impact relocating or not relocating will have on the children;
  • The reasons presented for and against relocating the children and the degree to which such reasons can be demonstrated to the court;
  • The quality-of-life currently compared to that within the proposed place of relocation;
  • Extended family and the connections with the area or state currently versus the area where the children would be relocating;
  • The possible alternative and the ability of the other parent to relocate as well;
  • The impact financially and the logistical issues created by relocating;
  • Distance of the new location from the current residence is one factor. Longer distances that further separate the child from the other parent may be more challenging to prove that it is in the best interest of the child;
  • Whether or not the relocating parent will collaborate with the parenting time schedule.

Given all the issues described above, divorced parents deciding to relocate their children is not a straightforward, simple matter.  Parental relocation is often the impetus for significant custody battles, and as such, the decision to move should never be taken lightly.

How will relocating improve the quality of life of the child?

Be prepared for the court to want to hear how quality-of-life factors such as education, neighborhoods, extracurricular activities will remain or improve in the new location.  A parent wanting to move must do their homework and thoroughly research what the court could expect from the new location. An important aspect of planning is for a parent to consider how custody exchanges will be handled i.e. allowing longer periods of time when the child visits the other parent for vacations or holidays.

What happens when the court denies a request to relocate?

If the court denies a request to relocate and the custodial parent relocates with the children anyway the custodial parent is in then violating the order of the court. The non-custodial parent may file a complaint with the court, and the judge can decide to hold the custodial parent in contempt, ordering the children to return. In this situation, custody is often granted to the non-custodial parent.

If the custodial parent is successful with getting the relocation approved, they will need to help the children adjust to the new living arrangement as best they can.  This means working on ways to help the child remain bonded with the noncustodial parent, despite the distance between them.  Virtual visitation can help tremendously with maintaining a relationship in a long-distance parenting situation.




Important custody issues and legal factors for divorced parents to consider when thinking about relocating.
Debrina Washington attorney at law specializes in economical legal support for single parents. Her article, seen in, on Child Relocation Guidelines offers a succint overview of legal issues and important factors to consider for a custodial parent wanting to relocate with a child.
The Psychological Effects of Relocation for Children of Divorce
From the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, this paper illustrates the psychological issues that children being relocated from the noncustodial parent can face.

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