CAN A PARENT MOVE THE CHILDREN AWAY?
CAN THE OTHER PARENT STOP THE OTHER PARENT FROM MOVING THE CHILDREN AWAY?
Your spouse or the other parent wants to move your children away from their current residence-to another place in Virginia, Maryland, District of Columbia, or maybe across the county.
Can you move the kids? Can you stop the other parent from moving your kids?
These cases are called "relocation" cases. They are often complicated cases. They are difficult to settle. This is because they are an "either/or" case-either the parent is permitted to move with children or the parent is prevented from moving. There is often no in between compromise. After all, kids of school age need to be in one place during the school year. (Before children attend full time school, there is often more flexibility with the child staying longer periods of time with each parent, but moving a child around can cause instability.)
If there is no custody court order or no custody agreement, you may move the child. There is nothing preventing you from doing so. You are not violating a court order or an agreement. The question is whether it is a wise decision to move the child without the other parent's permission. It is generally not a wise decision.
If you have a written signed custody agreement, the custody agreement may contain provisions that deal with the issue of moving the children. There may be specific provisions that address the issue. The agreement may say that one party has party has sole legal custody or decision making authority, which can be construed as having the right to move the child. The agreement may have a specific custody schedule and if you move the child you may be violating that custody schedule.
There may be a court order dealing with custody and relocation. In Virginia, the custody order will have a provision dealing with what the moving parent must do before moving-giving the other side and the court written notice of the intended new address 30 days in advance of the move. Here is the statute:
§ 20-124.5. Notification of relocation.
In any proceeding involving custody or visitation, the court shall include as a condition of any custody or visitation order a requirement that thirty days' advance written notice be given to the court and the other party by any party intending to relocate and of any intended change of address, unless the court, for good cause shown, orders otherwise. The court may require that the notice be in such form and contain such information as it deems proper and necessary under the circumstances of the case.
Can you just move the children?
Read your written signed custody agreement. Read your custody court order. Follow the rules in the statute by providing the 30 days' advance in writing to the Court and the other parent. Be aware of the other parties' visitation schedule. If your spouse has visitation every Tuesday night and every other weekend, you must abide by this schedule-until it is modified by written agreement or court order. If you move, you may not be able to provide the non-moving party with his or her agreed on or court ordered visitation. You will be in violation of the agreement, and if the agreement is part of a court court order, then you will be guilty of contempt or court--these breaches of the contract and court order can be very serious and hurt your custody case if you have to litigate the relocation issue. Taking the kids without the approval of the other parent is most usually a very bad idea that will come back to haunt you and may result in your losing custody rights.
Can you prevent the other parent from moving the children?
Most likely, yes, as least for the short term. But you must act quickly. Once you learn the other parent intends to move the children or has moved the children already, you must immediately to file a motion, perhaps an emergency motion, with the Court demanding the moving party not move until there is a full hearing on the matter or to return the children to your custody now. The court will most likely grant the motion, and prevent the move and/or order the moving parent to return the children on a temporary basis until the Court can have a full hearing on the issue of whether it is in the children's best interests to move or stay.
Bottom line is before you decide to move the children, talk to your lawyer. And if your spouse/other parent moves the children, call you lawyer immediately!