Relocation Cases Are Still Difficult

Every few months I am retained either to obtain permission to relocate with the children or to oppose it. Even after 30 years of being a Family Law attorney and a lawyer for nearly 40 years, these cases are still among the most difficult to predict unless the facts are so obviously in one side's favor.  Whether there is a prior order of sole or joint custody does not determine the outcome.

So the easy ones are that the parent opposing relocation does not have much of a relationship with the child. Or the child is approximately 15 years or older and clearly is in favor or opposed to the relocation. The difficult cases are the ones where both parents are actively involved with the child, the child does not state a preference and the reasons for relocation may have merit.

These cases are extremely fact sensitive and the facts are different in every single case I have handled. The only rule of thumb is that on difficult cases there is no rule of thumb. The courts can write decisions about whether a parent established a need to relocate and whether the move is in the best interests of the child, whether the parent seeking to move has met their burden to show the necessity of the move, what the impact will be on the child's relationship with the other parent, and what alternative parenting schedule can be substituted and how will the expenses of the non-custodial parent be met and the impact on the child's relationship with other family members living close to the child's current address. So, the Judges can write long decisions analyzing all of these various factors and how much weight to put on each one, but it still is difficult to predict the result prior to a full trial, unless the court has given an indication of its perception of the strength and weakness of each side's argument.

One general rule is that if there is an existing custody order, the parent that wants to relocate will have the burden of proving that the move is in the best interests of the child. Lawyers understand that in English that means that the parent who wants to go has to convince the Judge that permission should be granted, not the other way around.

If a parent files a request to relocate and the application is without any real facts or plan for where and why the parent is relocating it will more likely be denied. So a request that just says it is expensive on Long Island, I plan on getting a better job where I move, the schools are better and the cost of living is less and I will agree to the other parent having more time in the summer will probably not be successful. Comparatively, a request that states I earn $60,000 here and have been offered a transfer and promotion and I will earn $85,000, my family is five minutes away and will provide free child care, instead of renting a small apartment I will be able to buy a small house in a good school district, I will pay the cost of travel for the child or for the father to come to my area, I will reduce child support to further aid with the cost, Now the Court has more to consider.

Even Covid has led to relocation cases. I recently read a decision where the custodial parent wanted to move from Manhattan to Scarsdale and the other parent lived in New Jersey. The prior agreement had a relocation radius and Scarsdale was outside the radius. The parent seeking to move was concerned about the spread of the virus (at the time in NYC), that families were leaving NYC in mass exodus and thus the school quality would be reduced and that the father's commute would be minutes longer not hours longer. The father exercised his alternate week parenting time and his mid-week time, but less of the holiday schedule. The father was a doctor with a medical practice and could not readily relocate his practice.  The Court granted permission finding that the inconvenience to the father was not so extensive and would not have a major impact on his relationship with the child.

Probably the best advice I can give a parent facing these issues is to retain an experienced matrimonial attorney who handles custody cases, relocation cases and has true experience representing clients on both sides of this difficult issue.