Americans move once every five years on average, according to some estimates. Some of us do it for education, some for health reasons, some for work and some for love. A lot of us move just because we feel we need a change, and we want to enjoy our freedom.
However, when you’re subject to a child custody order, your freedom to move is limited.
When divorced parents share physical custody of their child, each parent has visitation rights. They formalize these rights in a parenting agreement which becomes an child custody order from the court. When one parent decides to move to a far away town or another state with their child, it can have a clear impact on the other parent’s ability to spend time with their child.
Under Virginia law, a parent who wishes to relocate with their child must give the court and the other parent written notice at least 30 days in advance of the planned move. Importantly, Virginia law does not specify a distance for the move.
Once they have received the notice, the other parent has the right to object to the move. If the relocation would interfere with their visitation rights, they can ask the court to order the other parent not to move.
The parent who wishes to relocate can then ask the court to permit the move and modify the order with a new plan that can respect the other parent’s rights.
Best interests of the child
When faced with such a dispute, courts make their decisions based on their understanding of the child’s best interests. This means they must consider how the intended move will affect the child’s health, education and familial relationships.
Notice here that the decision doesn’t rest on what’s best for either parent.
Many child custody orders contain language about relocation. Some may even specifically say that a parent cannot take the child out of the state. A parent who violates this order may be charged with contempt of court or even kidnapping.
However, a parent who feels they are in danger and must leave the state with their child may be able to petition the court for an temporary emergency custody order.
When you are planning to relocate, you have a lot on your mind and a lot of items on your to-do list. If you are party to a custody order, it’s a good idea to make sure that one of the first things you do is learn more about your legal rights, obligations and options.