Moving to another state is a complicated and stressful endeavor, even in the best of circumstances. For divorced parents, however, this already intense process becomes another beast, altogether.
While California doesn’t strictly prohibit parents from moving out of state, there are several extra steps you’ll need to take if you want your child to move with you.
Here’s a closer look at how California courts handle parental relocation requests, and some of the extra boxes you’ll need to check, if you want to move out of state with your child.
First off, so long as your move is within a certain radius (and, presumably, you’re still in California), you’re probably okay to move around without having to worry about violating a custody order.
For a lot of parents, this geographic restriction is fifty miles from the child’s home county. The boundaries can differ between cases, though, so it’s best to be certain before testing them out.
If your move is within the range specified in your divorce order, you do not need permission to change the child’s residence. Updating your address with both the court and your ex is essential, though, to make sure you don’t violate your visitation schedule, or miss important notices.
If your proposed move is outside the radius, then prepare yourself for extra paperwork, and read on to step two…
Step 2: Talk to Your Ex
For moves that break the geographic boundary, the next step to take is to have a chat with your child’s other parent—and yes, we understand that this is sometimes easier said than done.
Still, parents can save a lot of time and money by working things out between themselves, instead of rushing back to court. You may not be able to solve everything with one phone call, but even a quick game of mediation is better than a full court battle, especially since judges are almost always willing to sign off on an agreement that you reach together.
Keep in mind, that even if you agree, your changes still need judicial authorization, before the new arrangement is enforceable.
Step 3: Consider Your Custody Order
Assuming you and your ex can’t agree (and you still want to move), step three is to evaluate your current custody order.
In California, judges assign custody by giving rights to one parent, alone (sole custody), or as shared power to both (joint custody). While you’re reviewing which type applies to your situation, be sure to double check which parent is the primary custodian (or, in other words: who your child lives with most of the time).
More likely than not you’re already intimately familiar with this information (after all, it’s kind of hard to miss a child jumping up and down on your couch every day). Still, it’s a good idea to review, since custody arrangements directly determine which step you take next.
Step 4: Sole Custodians File Written Notice
A parent with sole custody has what courts call a “presumptive right” to move their child out of state. This is basically just a fancy way of saying “the benefit of the doubt to make all decisions.”
Despite this generous presumption, parents with sole custody still need to file written notice of their intentions, before they move. This notice must be given at least forty-five days before relocation, to give the child’s other parent a chance to voice objections, and to revise visitation schedules, if necessary.
A Non-Custodial Parent Can Challenge Custody
If you are a non-custodial parent—and are adamantly opposed to the move—you can do more than just object. Instead, you may request the court reevaluate your custody agreement. This is called custody modification.
In a custody modification case, the non-custodial parent challenger carries the burden of proof. This means that it’s your responsibility to show adequate proof that the arrangement isn’t in your child’s best interest, and that the court should reassign custody to you.
However, considering that a prior court already awarded your ex sole custody, this is a difficult standard to meet. Most custody challenges are not granted, and non-custodial parents should discuss legal strategies with an attorney before pursuing this expensive endeavor.
Step 4: Joint Custodians File for a “Move-Away” Order
California courts typically consider co-parenting arrangements to be “joint” whenever the non-custodial parent spends at least 45% of the time or more with their child. Where it’s less than 30%, the primary custodian is presumed to have sole custody.
If you and your spouse share joint custody, you will need to do more than just submit written notice. Instead, you will need to request a formal “move-away” order with the court—and this is true, even if you are the child’s primary residence.
But how does a move-away order differ from written notice? We’re glad you asked.
The Custody Reset Button
The best way to think about a “move-away” order, is to view it as a reset button.
If the court grants your request, this decision ripples down, affecting all aspects of your custody agreement. Hence, in a move-away situation you can’t simply redraw geographic boundaries. You have to reset the terms of your entire custody order.
This clean slate situation is riskier than you might think, because it essentially starts your custody negotiations over from scratch. It allows a judge to reevaluate your parenting abilities, and redistribute parental powers.
In other words: it might not go the way you want it to.
After evaluating the facts, a judge can just as easily decide to give the child’s other parent primary custody, as they can grant your move-away request. So it’s important to have strong, compelling arguments before bringing this type of petition to the court.
Step 5: Attend Your Hearing
The final step to moving out of state with your child is to attend a hearing, where your judge will evaluate all the evidence.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a formula for how courts deny and grant relocation requests. Instead, your judge will make the decision by weighing factors in your unique situation, which will likely include:
- The reason for your move;
- How far it is to the new location;
- Your child’s relationship with both parents;
- The parents’ relationship with each other;
- What kind of burden the move would place on visitation rights;
- The child’s need for stability;
- The child’s emotional, educational, and medical needs;
- If there’s a support system in the new location;
- Whether there’s extended family in the new location; and,
- Any other benefits the child would receive by moving (such as the security of a parent’s increased income).
This list isn’t exhaustive, and judges are free to include any relevant factors when deciding which course of action is in your child’s best interest.
At the end of your hearing, your judge will either accept or deny your request. If denied, you can probably still move, however, you’ll likely have to do it without your child (thereby giving up primary custody). If approved, the terms of your new custody agreement will be finalized into order, which you will file with your county clerk.
Parental Relocation Attorneys in California
If you have more questions about how you can move out of state with your child, we want to hear from you. Call the Maples Family Law team at (209) 989-4425, or get in touch online, and let help you move out of state with your child.