Not Just a Drive Across Town
Change can be hard on children, especially children of parents going through a divorce. The goal of the courts, as well as parents, is typically to see to the child’s best interest and try to provide as stable and consistent a lifestyle as possible.
However, when parents live a significant distance from each other, or plan to move, this introduces new complications to a child custody situation. In this article, we will review a few of the issues involved in a long-distance child custody arrangement.
Proving a Child’s Best Interest
Whether in assigning custody for the first time or responding to a request for modification, a family court judge will always keep the stability and wellbeing of the child or children involved as the top priority over parents’ wishes or convenience. It is highly unlikely that a judge would permit school-aged children to be traveling out of state, or even outside of their school district, on a regular basis during the school year because of the risk of interrupting their education. However, if the agreement involved the children only leaving the state during the winter and summer holiday breaks, this would be easier to defend. A judge will consider the impact of substantial travel within or outside of Massachusetts on a child’s physical, social, and educational well-being, among other factors.
What Counts as ‘Long Distance?’
Typically, a move within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts does not require a modification to a child custody order unless “the relocation would evidently involve significant disruption of the noncustodial parent’s visitation rights and the parents cannot agree,” as stated in the 2003 D.C vs. J.S. decision.
The parent who is moving a significant distance after the establishment of a custody agreement also faces a higher standard of proof that the change in circumstances would be in the child’s or children’s best interest. A plan to remove a child from Massachusetts may also allow the parent planning to remain in the Commonwealth to file for increased or sole custody.
Financial Questions to Consider
In addition to gaining the court’s assent for a long-distance custody arrangement, modified or original, there are financial and logistical questions for co-parents to consider.
Who will pay for rides to and from the airport? Who will buy the plane, or bus, or train tickets? Are the children old enough to travel on their own or will a parent accompany them to a hand-off to the other parent? These things need to be spelled out in a custody agreement.
Experienced Family Lawyers, Here for You
Whether you are seeking to establish a long-distance child custody agreement for the first time or modify an existing one, you need legal representation that rises to meet the challenge of proving a child’s best interest and negotiating an agreement that addresses the logistical issues of travel. Contact our office to discuss your family’s particular needs with an experienced child custody attorney.