Navigating divorce is hard enough, but when you have kids to share with your ex, there's so much more to consider. Like, what do you do if you'd like to start over somewhere else? Or what if an amazing opportunity comes your way in another city or state? If you're wondering how far you can move with joint custody, legal experts have some answers. Randall M. Kessler is the author of the book Divorce: Protect Yourself, Your Kids and Your Future and founding practicing attorney at KS Family Law based in Atlanta, and Jacqueline Harounian is a divorce and family law attorney in Great Neck, New York. Both share their insights of how to navigate this tricky situation.
There are so many questions to consider — and divorce can be mentally, emotionally, and financially draining — but luckily, with the expert advice from a legal professional, navigating through this difficult journey doesn't have to be so hard. If you're divorced or getting divorced and share custody, things may be a little more complicated, but it's not impossible to live the life you want.
When it comes to being able to move somewhere close to where you're living now, you don't need permission from your ex or a judge to be able to do so. However, it can get a little complicated if you're looking to change schools or you're moving far enough away that will affect visitation. Kessler says that most states have something called The UCCJEA law. Kessler explains, "Most states have a requirement that advance notice (often 30 days) must be given so the other side can decide whether to file a request to prevent the move. And the custody issues will still need to be heard in the original state unless both parents leave the state."
"Generally speaking, joint custody means that parents must communicate and consent regarding important issues affecting the child’s health or welfare," Harounian adds. "Since a relocation usually involves a change of school and will create obstacles to coparenting/visitation, you need court permission or consent of the noncustodial parent." But don't let that discourage you if you know the move will benefit your child. It's true that if you share custody that you may be required to give notice of the move if you're planning on moving farther than 20 miles, but Kessler says, "the best idea is to renegotiate before the move." So if you're looking to move farther than 20 miles, change schools, or will need to change visitation because of the move, you must file to give your ex notice. If your ex doesn't respond to prevent the move, you're free to move as planned, but try to renegotiate visitation and other logistics before you leave so you're less likely to run into problems down the line.
But what if renegotiating doesn't work? A very real problem for a lot of parents. Kessler says, "If negotiations don’t work, you [can] file a request to modify the parenting plan." And there are other things to consider that are unique to each case and each family. Harounian points out that "custody laws are 'gender neutral'. There is no difference whether the relocating parent is a mother or father. If an active involved father sees his child a few days per week, and is bonded to the child, it is going to be hard for the mother to pick up and relocate without a compelling reason." But if you can show the court or your ex that the move would benefit your child, then you could actually get what you're seeking. But Harounian mentions that it could get a little complicated and expensive.
She explains, that you would probably "have to make concessions regarding child support, cost of travel, parenting time during the summer or school recess periods." Which sounds like a lot, but don't worry. "There are many ways to find common ground in a relocation case if both sides are willing," she says. "It takes communication and compromise, and an experienced attorney or mediator." So if you know the move will greatly improve your child's quality of life, don't be afraid to file the motion and take on that battle if you need to.