Child Custody Relocation Cases Require Clear Evidence on Best Interests

May 4, 2023 | J. Benjamin Stevens | Share:

Empty living room with cardbord boxes ready to unpack, moving home concept.Navigating child custody relocation cases can be a complex and emotionally taxing process for parents and children alike. It is crucial for divorcing or divorced parents to understand their rights and obligations, as well as the legal framework governing such matters. This article provides guidance that I routinely offer to potential clients who may be facing a child custody relocation case, drawing on my experience as a divorce and child custody attorney for over twenty-five years.

By addressing key aspects such as the legal requirements to file a case, compelling reasons that support the relocation, and how to provide evidence regarding the best interests of the child, this article should help provide an overview of the issues to help you evaluate your potential relocation case.


Understanding the Legal Requirements to File a Relocation Case

In divorce and child custody modification cases, the legal requirement for relocation typically depends on the original child custody order’s language, assuming one already exists. The parameters for what constitutes a “relocation” can also vary from case to case and may be judged differently in different jurisdictions around the state.

Parents who wish to relocate should familiarize themselves with the specific language involving parenting time in their current order to ensure they are following the current provisions closely, including any provisions that may require advance notification to the other parent of the possible relocation. If you’re already having problems with the current parenting time schedule and it could be argued that your relocation might further interfere with the other parent’s ability to have a close and meaningful relationship with their child, you could be facing an uphill battle to gain the right to relocate with the child.

Other key provisions in child custody orders that parents should carefully review before filing a case include:


  1. Consent or Approval Provisions:

Depending on the language of your current Order, the non-relocating parent may need to provide consent in writing for the relocation of the child to take place. In other situations, the relocating parent might need to seek court approval first, particularly in cases where the move could significantly impact the existing custody arrangement.

It is not unusual for Orders will require at least 30 or 60 days’ notice to allow the non-relocating parent adequate time to file their own action to modify the custody Order if they so choose, but if they choose not to do so, the relocating parent may be free to move without immediate court intervention.

Regardless of which situation your Order may require, if you are the relocating parent, you will want to carefully follow all provisions to avoid being held in contempt for relocating the child without the required consent or approval to do so.


  1. Evidence that Clearly Documents the Relocation Reason(s):

The Family Court will often consider various factors in determining whether to grant relocation requests. These factors include the child’s best interests, the relocating parent’s motives, the non-relocating parent’s ability to maintain a meaningful relationship with the child, and the potential impact on the child’s well-being, among many others. To succeed in your case, you will need to work with your attorney to build the most comprehensive presentation of evidence as possible to support the request to move.

The time spent documenting all of this (even before you file your case) will not be wasted. If your relocation is time-sensitive, you’ll need to present as much information as possible at a temporary hearing to have the best chance of being granted temporary approval to move pending the final outcome of the case. Even if your move isn’t imminent, once the case begins, there will be many opportunities where you’ll be required to present this information in a concise and easy-to-understand format, such as to the Guardian ad Litem and the family court mediator, so having this information organized early will benefit your case immensely.


Establishing a Compelling Reason for Relocation

To successfully navigate a child custody relocation case, the relocating parent must present a compelling reason for the move. Examples of persuasive reasons might include:


  1. Better Employment Opportunities for a Parent:

Being required to relocate by your employer (i.e., an involuntary job transfer) is typically one of the “best” reasons to relocate. Also, courts will often view relocation favorably if it results in improved job prospects, financial stability, or career advancement for the relocating parent.


  1. Proximity to Family Support for a Single Parent and/or the Child:

A move that brings the relocating parent and/or child closer to an existing extended support network, such as family members who can assist with child-rearing, may be deemed beneficial, especially in situations where the non-relocating parent is unable or unwilling to provide the same support in the current area.


  1. Enhanced Quality of Life for the Child:

Relocation may be justified if it leads to better educational opportunities, improved healthcare, and/or a safer living environment for the child. However, even if those benefits can be argued well, if they result in irreparable damage to the parent-child relationship for the child and the non-relocating parent, the Court may deny the relocation request.


Presenting Evidence to Show the Best Interests of the Child

A critical component of any child custody relocation case is demonstrating that the proposed move is not only in the best interest of the relocating parent but that it also aligns with the child’s best interests. Factors that should always be considered in this regard include:


  1. Emotional Well-Being:

The relocating parent should present evidence that the move will not have a detrimental impact on the child’s emotional well-being and that they will continue to foster a strong bond between the child and the non-relocating parent. This may, and likely should, include being willing to go above and beyond what was necessary prior to the relocation.


  1. Educational Continuity:

Ensuring that the child’s education will not be disrupted, side-lined, or suffer any other setbacks is crucial. The relocating parent should provide information on the quality of schools in the new area and develop a plan for the child’s smooth transition. If the relocating parent cannot show that the schools in the new location are at least as good as the child’s prior school, it will be more difficult to have the court approve the relocation request.


  1. Stability:

Courts typically value stability in a child’s life, sometimes above almost everything else. The relocating parent must demonstrate that the move will not lead to excessive disruption. The parent wishing to relocate should present evidence that once settled in the new location, they can provide a stable and nurturing environment for the child going forward and that multiple or subsequent relocations are not anticipated.


Proactively Addressing Potential Challenges

The best way to increase the odds for a favorable outcome in any child custody relocation case is for the relocating parent to proactively and timely address potential and foreseeable challenges. Such strategies may include:


  1. Presenting a Comprehensive Parenting Plan to Maintain Parent-Child Relationships

The relocating parent should work with the non-relocating parent to develop a detailed parenting plan that outlines parenting-time schedules, regular communication methods and schedules, as well as an agreement on the division of parental responsibilities. This plan should be designed to maintain the child’s connection with both parents and minimize potential conflicts. While it may be more practical on all levels for the relocating parent to be responsible for most day-to-day decisions for the child, clearly outlining the expectations and obligations for including the other parent in child-related decisions will be the best way to show the court that you have no intention of alienating the other parent from their role as an active and involved parent.


  1. Gathering Persuasive Evidence:

As outlined above, it is critical for the relocating parent to compile strong evidence to support their case. This may include letters of recommendation from teachers, doctors, or other professionals familiar with the child’s needs, as well as documentation of employment offers, housing arrangements, and local resources in the new area. Some of this evidence may be duplicative of the Guardian ad Litem’s report if one is appointed, but it will greatly help your case to have this information ahead of time and to have shared it openly and freely with the other parent prior to litigation.


  1. Engaging Expert Witnesses:

In some cases, it may be beneficial to enlist the help of expert witnesses, such as child psychologists or family therapists, who can provide objective opinions on the potential impact of the relocation on the child’s well-being and how such moves might affect the parent-child relationships on both sides. In many cases, while they may stop short of “choosing sides” in the relocation, they can help illustrate for the court how your plans to mitigate the impact of the distance will be beneficial to the child.


  1. Fostering Open and Frequent Communication:

Throughout the relocation process, both parents should strive to maintain open lines of communication and foster an environment of cooperation and mutual respect. This can help facilitate negotiations and minimize the likelihood of protracted legal battles that only serve to strain (or ruin) co-parenting relationships, not to mention putting the child in a no-win situation of feeling the need to choose between their parents.


Final Thoughts

Successfully navigating child custody relocation cases requires a thorough understanding of the legal requirements for such a move to be supported and granted by the Court, a compelling reason for the move that overrides any potential negative aspects of the move, and a demonstrated commitment by both parents to serving the best interests of the child before, during, and after the move, assuming the relocation request is granted by the Court. By proactively addressing potential challenges and fostering open communication with the non-relocating parent, it is possible to achieve a favorable outcome that prioritizes the well-being of the child.

As in any family court case, it is crucial to consult with a qualified family law attorney who can provide specifically tailored guidance and representation throughout the process based on your circumstances. If you’re in South Carolina, it’s important to contact an experienced family court attorney like J. Benjamin Stevens today to discuss your specific situation.  Even if you aren’t in South Carolina, Mr. Stevens is happy to offer referrals to a well-qualified attorney located in your state.

Ben Stevens is a Fellow in the prestigious American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and the International Academy of Family Lawyers, and he is a Board-Certified Family Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. He has represented parents in child custody and other Family Court cases all across South Carolina for over twenty-five years. If you or someone you know is facing a child custody or visitation case, contact our office at (864) 598-9172 or to schedule a consultation.


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Aggressive, creative, and compassionate are words Ben Stevens' colleagues freely use to describe him as a divorce and family law attorney. Mr. Stevens is a Fellow in the prestigious American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, the International Academy of Family Lawyers, and is a Board Certified Family Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. He is one of only two attorneys in South Carolina with those simultaneous distinctions. He has held numerous leadership positions in the AAML, and he currently serves as one of its National Vice Presidents. Mr. Stevens has a statewide practice and regularly appears all across South Carolina.  His practice is focused on complex divorce and child custody cases.

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