Divorce is certainly an important and significant life change. Often, however, the divorce itself isn’t the only change. A divorce can be one big change that leads to many others, one of which can be relocation. Often, for any number of reasons following a divorce, one parent may decide to relocate. It might be to be closer to extended family, in order to counterbalance the feelings of loneliness that can often accompany the end of a marriage. It could be to accept a promotion, or a better job, that provides the parent much-needed income after a divorce – after all, moving from one home and one set of bills to two can be expensive. In some cases, relocation may just provide a much-needed change of scenery. Whatever the reason, relocation does happen, and it’s an issue to be aware of during and after divorce.
Often, however, parents misunderstand how the relocation process can be affected by divorce. While it’s true that a divorce means the end of a marriage, divorced spouses will still always be co-parents. As co-parents, you’ll have to continue to communicate, work together, and make decisions concerning what’s best for your children. This, of course, includes looking at relocation through this lens. While a relocation may be the best decision for you – and while it might be a good decision for your children as well, being a divorced co-parent may make it a bit more complicated.
From a legal perspective, it would be a mistake to assume that simply because you have primary physical custody, you can relocate when and where you choose to. This isn’t always the case, however. It’s important to understand that any parent wishing to relocate, even a parent with primary physical custody, may have legal obligations to address before being able to do so. If you’re considering a relocation, it’s helpful to ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you have an existing child custody order or separation agreement in place? If an existing child custody order or separation order is in place, it is important to review the terms of that order and whether or not it contains any limitations on moving out of state, moving a certain number of miles away, or any other travel restrictions.
- Have you thoroughly considered the pros and cons of a potential relocation? Without question, divorce can be difficult, and it can be very emotional. It is not unusual or abnormal to simply want a change of scenery or a fresh start. Sometimes, that desire can even be so strong that the relocation isn’t thoroughly considered from all perspectives. In some cases, relocation truly is what’s best for your family and your future – but in other cases, it may not truly be what is in the best interest of your children once you’ve sat down and thoroughly thought it through. Spend some time considering a move from all perspectives and all angles – when children are involved, making a spontaneous decision without considering all factors may not be the best choice in the long run.
- Can I Co-Parent Successfully From a Distance? After a divorce, you are no longer husband and wife – but you’ll always be mom and dad. This means that you’ll have to work together to do what’s in the best interest of your children. Thinking through your ability to continue to do that, even from a potentially long distance, will be important. The answer to this question will, of course, depend upon each family’s unique circumstances, but it is essential to take the time to thoroughly consider it and talk it through with your co-parent before moving forward.
Seeking Modification of an Existing Custody Order or Agreement
If you have thoroughly considered relocation and you truly believe that it will be in the best interests of your family, you may need to seek a modification of your existing custody order or agreement. If this is the case, the process for seeking a modification will differ depending upon whether you have an out-of-court agreement with your ex-spouse or a court-ordered custody arrangement:
- Out-of-Court Agreement: One of the many benefits of having an out-of-court custody agreement is that the parties can modify that agreement if and when they choose to do so. Therefore, if both parties are on the same page and agree that modifying the agreement is best for their family, they can simply alter the agreement as necessary to reflect the newly agreed-upon custody arrangement. In some circumstances, of course, one parent may not agree to modify the agreement, in which case it may become necessary to seek the involvement of a court. In either case, guidance and representation by a knowledgeable and experienced divorce attorney will be essential.
- Court-Ordered Custody Arrangement: If you have a court-ordered custody arrangement, there is only one way to modify it – and that is by asking the court to do so. You will need to find a knowledgeable and experienced attorney to help you with the process of filing a motion to modify the existing order. You will need to establish a “substantial and material” change in circumstances in order for the court to decide to grant your request. In making that determination, a court will typically consider a variety of factors, and the court will have a great deal of discretion in deciding whether or not to modify the order. Ultimately, as with all issues surrounding child custody in North Carolina, courts will seek to make determinations with respect to the “best interest” of the children involved.
Ultimately, regardless of whether or not you have a court-ordered custody arrangement or an out-of-court agreement in place, it is essential not to relocate until you have successfully modified that order or agreement. Failure to do so could result in significant legal consequences and is never advised.
Call the Law Office of Dustin McCrary Today
If you are going through the divorce process, or have gone through a divorce and are now facing the issue of relocation and how that may affect your family from a legal perspective, one of the most important and helpful steps you can take is to consult with an attorney who knows and understands divorce law, and who can help you to take the necessary steps to ensure a smooth and successful transition to your next chapter ahead. At Dustin McCrary, we’re here to do exactly that. We would consider it an honor and a privilege to help you through this process, and we’re here for you. Call us at any time. We look forward to speaking with you soon.