Thanks to CowanGates and Melanie A. Friend for this valuable information pertaining to family law.
My wife and I just got divorced last year and have been sharing equal custody of our son. Now I’ve been transferred to another city for work. What happens with custody of our son?
Even though you most likely put away your divorce decree hoping to never have to see or think about that piece of paper ever again, now’s the time to dig through your filing cabinet and give it (and your Separation Agreement, if you had one) another read-through. First, make certain it does not contain any terms prohibiting you from relocating further than a certain distance or otherwise restricting your ability to relocate. If you do have that type of restriction, stop reading this answer and call an attorney for advice.
Though you may not have any restriction on relocation, you should see a provision in your court order stating that any parent who intends to move must give the other parent and the court thirty days’ advance notice, in writing, of the intended change of address. That provision is required by Virginia law. It gives the other parent the opportunity to object to a child relocating. If you haven’t done that yet, and you plan to move in the next month or so, this task gets bumped to the front of the line on your to-do list. Already did that? Gold star for you.
Assuming that your new city is too far for a child to commute to school every morning, you will need to file a motion to modify your custody and visitation order. If you and your son’s mother can agree on what arrangement best serves your child, the court will most likely respect that agreement and make it part of the court order. You should understand that the court doesn’t have to adopt your agreement as an order, but judges do give significant weight to parental agreements because the two of you know your child better than anyone else. If you want your son to move with you to the new city, and your ex disagrees, then the judge will decide which living arrangement serves your son’s best interests – moving with you and having visitation time with his mother, or remaining behind to live primarily with his mother, while having visitation with you.
If you think it’s best for your son to go with you, then you will need to be prepared to show the judge why your proposed relocation benefits your son more than staying where he is, not why the move will be better for you. A big raise, a tropical climate, or a new marriage for one parent may not justify moving a child away from the other parent.
Custody cases involving relocation can be very complex, and it is vital that you present your case clearly and effectively. Make certain your attorney understands your circumstances and understands why you think the custody and visitation arrangement you propose is best for your child, so that your attorney can better advocate for you.
Melanie Friend practices family law at CowanGates with a focus on divorce, child and spousal support, child custody and visitation, adoption and prenuptial agreements. She joined the practice in 2007 and was named principal in 2012. Before CowanGates, Friend completed a clerkship for the Honorable Timothy E. Meredith of the Maryland Court of Special Appeals. She received her undergraduate degree from Thiel College in 2003 and her law degree from Marshall-Wythe School of Law at the College of William and Mary in 2006.
Friend is a member of many local associations, including the Metro Richmond Family Law Bar Association and the Family Law Section of the Virginia State Bar. She serves as judicial candidate endorsement chair on the board of the Metropolitan Richmond Women’s Bar Association and serves on the Young Trial Lawyers leadership committee. Friend is also qualified as a Guardian Ad Litem for children. In March 2013, Friend was named the Richmond Bar Association’s 2013 Young Lawyer of the Year.