When a couple separates, they separate—both emotionally and physically. Usually, one partner stays in the home where the couple lived, and the other partner moves to another house or apartment. When the couple has a child or children, the parent with physical custody often remains in the home to maintain as much continuity as possible for the children.
It’s extremely common for one partner to move away, sometimes far away. Maybe housing is too expensive. Maybe they take a new job. Maybe they just want a fresh start. However, where they settle, when they move, and why they move, each has a material impact on a divorce decree or separation agreement, especially if children are involved.
Let’s look at a few different considerations to see how distance, time, and intent all affect separations and resolutions:
Consideration #1: Distance
If your partner moves away, the distance that they move may influence your legal agreement. If they simply move across town, there’s likely little to no impact. But if they move to another county or another state, jurisdiction becomes an issue. And if you have children, distance has an enormous impact on your agreement.
In California, a custodial parent wishing to move away with their children for more than 30 days must submit written notice of the plan, and they must submit it at least 45 days before the planned relocation. This gives the other parent—whether or not they have joint custody—the ability to object to the proposed move. At a minimum, the parents must revise the existing custody and visitation agreement; because now the children will be farther away from the remaining parent (which exerts new time and financial stresses).
For example, if you and your spouse lived together in Los Angeles with two children, and after divorcing, your ex wants to move to North Carolina, he or she must submit a written plan to the court that determined your divorce and custody resolution (as noted above, it must be submitted at least 45 days before the proposed move). You then have the option to object to the move. You may object because you will not be able to see your children as frequently, or you will have to incur much greater costs to fly your kids back from North Carolina, etc. The judge in the presiding court then gets to determine what they think is in your children’s best interest.
Consideration #2: Timing
If your partner moves away, the timing can have an impact on your divorce decree or separation resolution. If you are already divorced and have no children, then a move to another state probably has little impact (as your shared assets have likely already been settled in the divorce decree). But if you are not yet legally divorced, when your partner moves away can have an impact on proper jurisdiction.
In California, someone wishing to dissolve a relationship may file for divorce if one of the two partners has resided in California for at least 6 months and lived in that particular county for at least 3 months (except for same-sex couples). This means if one partner moves away from California, the other partner can still file for divorce in California. It also means that if one partner moves away to California and resides there for 6 months, they can file for divorce in California—regardless of where the couple was married or lived together.
For example, if you and your spouse were married in Minnesota and lived together in Los Angeles for 3 years, then you separate and your spouse moves to Washington, you may file for divorce in Los Angeles County because you still meet the residency requirements. That means that Los Angeles County has jurisdiction over the divorce, and the case will be resolved there. However, if this example is altered, and you and your spouse lived in Washington, then he or she moves to Los Angeles, they may file for divorce in California once they’ve lived there 6 months. And you will have to deal with it in an out-of-state court.
Consideration #3: Intent
If your partner moves away, the reason they claim for the relocation can impact the judge’s decisions on factors like custody and visitation. If you are already divorced and have an agreement regarding your children, that agreement must be revised to account for the new distance between you and your kids. A judge will always place the children’s well-being and best interest above any other factors. In some cases, a judge may even decide to change physical custody in order to keep children where they feel most comfortable.
Why a custodial parent decides to move away is often complicated. Often, financial strain plays a role—whether it’s moving for a new job offer, or to be closer to family for help with childcare, or to simply save money on rent and home costs. But if the other parent has agreed-upon custody rights—such as seeing their children every other weekend—that agreement becomes practically irrelevant if the kids are now an additional 200 (or 2000!) miles away. All of these complex real-life variables are why a judge or mediator must really grapple with more than just laws. Is this move necessary? Is it fair to the other parent? Is it ultimately best for the children?
When an ex moves away, it can be complicated. And when there are children, it can be even more complicated. And emotional. And personal. Many exes feel new loneliness and renewed betrayal, like an old wound being reopened. This is why—even though there are laws on the books—an ex moving away may be handled best by a mediator. A judge will rule on the law, but an experienced mediator can hear out both sides and broker a fair, peaceful, and personal resolution.
To discuss a potential move by you or your ex-partner, please contact us at South Bay Mediation. Moving away—especially when relocating children or having one of their parents move away from them—can be a new set of emotions to navigate. We appreciate helping families reach resolution, so that everyone can move forward in a happy and healthy direction.
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