Divorce is a difficult process and even more troubling when there are children involved. Custody and parenting time (visitation) are usually the most contentious issues for the divorcing couple and a good reason for each partner to have a knowledgeable, experienced child custody attorney to look out for his or her interests and for the best interests of the children. In the Los Angeles area, you would be hard-pressed to find a more effective or caring family law firm than MacKay & Martin, LLP. We have the mastery of the law to guide you through the intricacies of custody arrangements even when complex issues like relocation arise. Moreover, we have the empathy to provide you with emotional as well as legal support.
At MacKay & Martin, we understand that just discussing not living with your children all the time can provoke intense emotions — even if you are the parent granted primary custody. If you are the noncustodial parent, we know how painful it can be to feel shut out of your children's lives except for visitation. Even when both parents share not only legal but physical custody, there is bound to be friction. At MacKay & Martin we approach your situation as the unique one it is, working hard to resolve custody arrangements that will be acceptable to all involved. We know that, regardless of the divorce, you will all still have to function in some ways as a “family,” and we will try to make that situation as smooth and painless as possible.
Understanding the Two Types of Child Custody Orders
The two types of child custody are legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody is given to both parents in most situations since it involves making important decisions about the child's medical or psychological treatment, religion, education, participation in extracurricular activities, and travel outside the state. Physical custody refers to what most of us think of simply as “custody,” meaning which parent the child will live with.
Relocation After a Divorce
Ideally, assuming both parents have good working relationships with their children, the courts assume that it is best for the children to spend as much time as possible with both parents. In many cases, this works well, whether the children live with one parent most of the time, or whether the parents have joint custody. When you become our client, we will make you aware of the fact that a loose arrangement, in which the child moves back and forth from one parent to the other, but in which one parent actually has physical custody in the divorce decree is not a good idea. Such a situation is advantageous to the parent with legally validated physical custody if relocation becomes an issue.
As long as both parents live within a relatively short distance from one another, the children can be transported easily whether they have a home in both locations or go to visit at one while living most of the time at the other. There are, of course, situations that interrupt a peaceful flow of custody. These include those in which one parent:
- Is only allowed to have supervised visits with the child
- Is incarcerated or is a patient in a hospital or rehab facility
- Is a temporary or permanent resident in a halfway house
- Is forbidden by the court to see the child at all
If one parent cannot travel to see the child, and visitation is allowed, the other parent has a responsibility to facilitate allowable visits.
Can a Custodial Parent Move Away With a Child in California?
The court's primary consideration is always the effect on the health, safety, and welfare of the child. A custodial parent is legally permitted to relocate with a child of divorce if such a move won't interfere with the best interests of the child. In many cases, that is a big “if” and will require a new custody and/or visitation agreement. According to California law, the parent who plans to move with the child for more than 30 days must provide the other parent with written notice at least 45 days in advance. This gives the stationary parent time to file an objection to the other parent's proposed move and/or ask for a modification of custody arrangements.
There are many reasons a custodial parent may want to relocate, such as for employment, for health reasons, or to be near family. If the move is seen as necessary by the court, and neither distance nor cost will prevent the other parent from having regular visits, the court may be agreeable. If, on the other hand, the court feels the reason for the move is frivolous — such as a preference for a warm climate — or that the child's welfare is not being given adequate consideration, a determination may be made to change the custody arrangements.
What MacKay & Martin Can Do to Help
Whether you are the custodial parent who wants or needs to move or the noncustodial parent fearful of losing accessibility to your children, our sharp, caring attorneys are here to help. We are skillful negotiators and know which tactics will work best if we have to seek a modification of custody arrangements in court. You can trust us to fight for your rights and your children's well-being.
What criteria will be considered by the judge during a relocation hearing?
“Best interests of the child,” though a subjective judgment, includes the following:
- The child's need for stability and continuity including ongoing connection with other family members, friends, neighbors, classmates
- The child's educational, medical, physical, and emotional needs
- The distance of the proposed move and how it will affect accessibility to the other parent
- The nature of the child's relationship with each of the parents
- The ability of the two parents to communicate with one another and to make reasonable accommodations
- Any harm that the move might inflict on the child, including harm on the child's relationship with the nonmoving parent
Does the child get a say in the matter?
According to The California Family Code, children over the age of 14, or children under 14 considered mature enough to “form an intelligent preference” may be permitted to testify regarding their personal preferences regarding custody and visitation. The court, however, can disallow such testimony on the grounds that it will emotionally scar the child. Because courts tend to favor not putting the child in the middle, just asking for your child testimony may work against you.
Choose MacKay & Martin When It Matters the Most
With matters as important as relocation and a possible change in custody arrangements, make sure you consult with the Los Angeles family law firm with a well-earned reputation for strength and compassion. As professionals in the field, we know the ins and outs of California relocation and custody law and are prepared to provide you and your children with the best outcome. Give us a call or contact us through our website. We will give you the personal attention and strong legal representation you deserve.