People relocate for a variety of reasons: pursuing a job opportunity, moving closer to family, or moving due to remarriage – just to name a few.  Adults have a constitutional right to travel and to move wherever they choose.  But what happens when you share custody of minor children and have an established parenting agreement or Court order?  While you have the right to relocate, you do not necessarily have the right to take your children with you.  

When one parent is seeking to relocate with the children, particularly to a distant location, it presents one of the most challenging custody issues for parents and the court.  The relocating parent can never assume the children will move with them and the non-moving parent should not assume the children will never have to move.  In Maryland, in order to modify custody, including custody modifications based on one parent’s relocation, a parent has to prove a material change in circumstances which renders the current custodial arrangement no longer in the children’s best interest.  If a material change exists, the court will then evaluate the request to modify custody, including relocating the children, against the best interests of the children standard and the related factors.

Regardless of the court order or custody agreement you have been living up until that point, when one parent wants to relocate out of the area, the question becomes with whom and where will the children live primarily?  Because each parent is typically unwilling to concede on the main issue of the child moving or staying, settlement opportunities are seldom, and contested litigation often ensues.  While the main issue may be the children’s primary residence and geographic location, relocation raises a number of other potential issues that might have to be addressed in a trial or settlement agreement regardless of outcome:

  • What will the new time-sharing arrangement be with the parent that the children do not primarily reside with? 
  • Will the change in timesharing affect the child support arrangements? 
  • Does the relocation also impact the parents’ legal custody arrangement such that it too should be modified?
  • How will the minor children’s transportation between homes work and who pays for it?

Here are some initial process related things to consider if you are contemplating relocating or if you find out your co-parent is relocating:

  • Court orders or custody agreements often contain provisions regarding relocation.  At a minimum, the moving parent may have a notice requirement to alert the other parent a certain number of days in advance that they are relocating.  Some custody agreements may contain detailed relocation provisions setting forth the process the parents will go through, e.g. notice, mediation, etc., to attempt to address the issue before seeking the court’s help.  The provision may even prohibit the children’s relocation before the parents reach an agreement or the court enters an order.
  • Navigating those pre-litigation processes and procedures timely and effectively is important and may make a difference in whether you have to go through a contested case.
  • If your court order or agreement does not have any provisions regarding relocation, and if you are the relocating parent, consider how and when to provide notice to the other parent and how and when you will move forward to seek relief from the court if settlement is not possible.  If you are the non-moving parent you should consider your response to the moving parent’s relocation notice, how to respond to any court action filed by the moving parent, or if you want to proactively ask the court to modify custody.

The way parents elect to handle relocation issues is likely to have significant short and long-term impacts on their children.  Whether you are the moving parent or the non-moving parent, seeking the advice of a lawyer early in the process is a must to put yourself in the best position to advocate for your children’s best interests.