According to one source, a person in the United States is expected to move 11.4 times in his/her lifetime. The most common reasons are relationship changes, career opportunities, retirement, being near family, change of climate. What happens if a custody order was entered while the parties lived in the same community and one of the parents later desires to relocate? If the order doesn’t address the issue of a parent relocating, or if the parties can’t agree as to how it will be handled, a court may be called upon to decide whether or not the children may move with the relocating parent and/or what parenting schedule will be observed going forward.
As always in custody cases, the guiding star is the best interests of the child. However, once a custody order has been entered, it can not be changed unless there has been a substantial change in circumstances affecting the welfare of the child and a change in custody is in the best interest of the child. The party seeking modification has the burden of proving the change in circumstances.
A change in a custodial parent’s residence is not itself a substantial change in circumstances justifying a modification of a custody order. For the court to modify a custody order based on change of circumstance due to a parent changing his/her residence, the effect on the welfare of the child must be shown. After determining that a substantial change of circumstance has occurred affecting the well-being of the child, a court must consider all factors that indicate which parent is best-fitted to give the child the home-life, care, and supervision that will be most conducive to the child’s well-being. To that end, the courts have specifically enumerated five factors to consider:
- the advantages of the relocation in terms of its capacity to improve the life of the child;
- the motives of the custodial parent in seeking the move;
- the likelihood that the custodial parent will comply with visitation orders when he or she is no longer subject to the jurisdiction of the courts of North Carolina;
- the integrity of the noncustodial parent in resisting the relocation; and
- the likelihood that a realistic visitation schedule can be arranged which will preserve and foster the parental relationship with the noncustodial parent.
Relocation is a difficult and complex issue that can have significant ramifications – if you need assistance with a custody issue related to relocation, contact an attorney as soon as possible.