Child Custody and Differences in Location

For divorcing parents, issues of child custody can be central points of contention, with disputes often heading into the courtroom. When taken before a judge, custody will be determined based on a child’s best interest and there is a strong presumption that both parents should be included in an agreement. However, it may not always be possible to award joint custody. For example: what happens when parents move far away or out of state?

When determining post-divorce parental responsibilities, the two separate types of custody to consider include:

  • Joint Physical custody refers to the concept that the parents will consult with each other on all major decisions affecting their child, such as medical, educational and religious decisions. The amount of time the child spends with each parent could be equal or could be primarily with one parent. Even where the parents reside close to each other, the court will not impose a shared equal parenting schedule unless the parties are willing to do so since the level of cooperation required is much higher. At a minimum, there will always be a schedule of parenting time including holidays, school recesses and summer vacation.
  • Sole Legal custody refers to a parent’s right to make decisions about their child’s life without consultation with the other parent. Nevertheless, the sole custodial parent may still be required to keep the other parent informed of all major decisions affecting the child. Typically, where the parents’ relationship has been damaged by domestic violence, mental illness, alcohol or drug abuse there is a greater likelihood of sole legal custody. Even in this scenario there still is a parenting schedule that may be similar to the schedule among joint custodial parents.

Out of state moves can further complicate matters. Legal issues that arise will be resolved following the laws of the child’s home state, typically the location where a child has lived for the past six months or the state in which they parents were divorced if one parent is still a resident of that state.

Modifications and Relocation

Another scenario where distance can affect custody occurs when a parent desires to move out of state after the terms of custody have been set. Moving with a child is not as simple as packing up and leaving. A custodial parent should request, and a judge must approve, a modification to any existing agreements. Relocations are not easily granted and, just like with initial custody agreements, decisions will be made based on the best interest of the child. Generally, it must be shown that there has been a substantial change in circumstance that has occurred which directly affects the life or wellbeing of the child. The burden will always be on the parent that wishes to relocate. However, if the non-custodial parent has not been active in the child’s life while the child resides locally, then it will be much easier to get judicial permission due to the lack of parenting when the child lived nearby.

Legal Help for Child Custody Agreements

Few issues may be more important than the well-being of your child and if you are currently involved in a custody dispute, you may be left to fight for what is in your family’s best interest. Know that you do not have to go through this process alone and our firm is only a phone call away. Backed by more than three decades of experience, our Suffolk County divorce attorneys can be in your corner each step of the way to see that your voice is heard.

Call (631) 629-6874 or request a free consultation online to speak to an attorney about your child custody dispute.