Can a Custodial Parent Move a Child Out of State?


Can a Custodial Parent Move a Child Out of State?

There are many legitimate reasons why a parent may need to move out of state. They may need to move because of work. A grandparent or other relative who lives out of state may need their care. Parents are allowed to have new relationships when the divorce is over – and their new partner may live outside of New Jersey. There’s nothing wrong with a parent moving out of state – provided they move alone. Answering the question of can a custodial parent move a child out of state is an entirely different issue.

How can a custodial parent move a child out of state legally?

There are two types of custody definitions. Legal custody refers to the ability to make decisions for your children about their education, health, religious upbringing, and other long-term issues. Moving out of state with a child shouldn’t affect legal custody – whether the legal custody is joint (the norm) or whether one parent has sole legal custody. The move will affect legal custody to the extent the parent staying in New Jersey needs to know about the schools, hospitals, and religious affiliations in the new locations.

Physical custody refers to where the child lives on a daily basis and who takes care of the child’s daily needs – such as food, clothing, friendships, attending school, and social activities. Before moving children out of state, if you have joint or sole physical custody of your child, you should have a valid court order – either by agreement with your ex-spouse or by order of a family law judge.

Can a custodial parent move a child out of state without ruffling any feathers? Moving out of state changes the family dynamic in many ways – especially if the parents have joint custody. When one parent moves out of state, the other parent will have legitimate concerns about:

Where the child will live and who will be living in the household besides the custodial parent and the child?

Where will the child attend school?

What type of community will the child live in?

How do the educational, health, and emotional opportunities for the child differ between the New Jersey location and the out-of-state location?

How and when will the parent who remains in New Jersey have his/her own custodial or visitation rights with the child? Is it enough if the other custodial parent only sees the child in the summer months, school vacations, and holidays?

How will the parent staying behind communicate with the child while the child is in the new state?

Who will pay for the child to travel between the homes of each parent?

If you’re a custodial parent moving your child out of state, you’ll need to be able to answer these questions to the satisfaction of your spouse and/or the family court judge.

Reasons a co-parent or judge will question a custodial parent moving children out of state

Generally, if you have joint or sole physical custody of the child, the reason for the move is legitimate, and these questions can be answered – moving children out of state should be approved.

Co-parents and judges will balance the legitimacy of the move with the need for stability.  They will really decide the answer to the question, can a custodial parent move a child out of state? Your ex-spouse and the family court judge have the right to be concerned that a divorce is hard enough on a child. Moving children out of state adds another level of instability. Children are usually more comfortable staying in the same home and attending the same school – as they did before the divorce.  Seeking the permission or right to move immediately after a divorce will be questioned more intensely than if the move is several years after the divorce. Judges will also be hesitant to authorize a move if you just want to move to have a new experience rather than for a necessary reason.

What if there’s no custody agreement?

If you don’t have a custody agreement, then you should seek to obtain a formal custody agreement and order before you move. If you do have a custody agreement, you should seek to obtain a new agreement or order before you move. While a written agreement helps when moving children out of state, the agreement should be made part of a formal court order.

Generally, the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) provides:

Which state has jurisdiction to decide custody issues?

How out-of-state custody orders can be enforced.

Generally, a written New Jersey custody order provides protection for you and your child from complaints by your New Jersey spouse if you are moving out of state with a child. A skilled New Jersey family law will explain how the UCCJEA and other laws are used in case either parent wants to modify the child custody order that authorizes the move or needs to enforce that custody order.

At DeTorres & DeGeorge Family Law, our respected custody and divorce lawyers work to obtain custody and visitation orders during the divorce. We also work to modify and enforce custody orders if you are moving children out of state. We can answer the question, can a custodial parent move a child out of state? To speak with an experienced child custody attorney who understands the legal and practical issues when figuring out can a custodial parent move a child out of state, call us at 908-691-2104 or complete our contact form to schedule an appointment. We have offices in Clinton and Morristown.

Rosanne S. DeTorres
Ms. DeTorres is the managing partner and co-founder of DeTorres & DeGeorge Family Law. She is also only one of 150 attorneys in the State of NJ that is certified by the NJ Supreme Court as a Matrimonial Law Attorney. Ms. DeTorres graduated...
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