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Five Things NC Courts Must Consider if a

Parent Wants to Relocate With the Kids

When one parent wants to move out of town or out of state with the kids, the stakes are instantly higher. There are fewer options to compromise on the visitation schedule. School-age children generally need to live primarily in one place or the other, at least when school is in session. If parents live locally, they might have the alternating weekend schedule and a Wednesday night when they do not have the upcoming weekend, and any other times by mutual agreement. But when one lives far away from the other, there are fewer ways to arrange the schedules so that both parents can remain actively engaged.

A pie can only be cut in so many slices. As many judges will tell you at the end of custody cases, these difficult decisions are the ones that keep them awake at night. This is especially difficult when there are two great parents, both of whom have a strong bond with their child. In all child custody cases, North Carolina law requires a judge to consider what is in a child’s best interest, to live primarily with mom or dad. When one parent seeks to move, and the other wants to remain, the judge must consider five factors [1]. In other words, the judge’s written order must include the answer to each of the five questions when making the decision of what is in a child’s best interest. At first, these questions seem simple but once you add the circumstances of each family, they are not as simple as they first appear.  

#1        What Are the Advantages of the Move for the Child?

Will there be any improvements for his or her life if the child relocates? This is an argument parents make when the two locations are very different. For instance, when a child lives out in the country, will he or she benefit from living in a big city? If there are already connections to the new area, does that include grandparents who are willing to assist with childcare? Does one location offer better medical care for a child who suffers from serious medical problems? Is a gifted child likely to achieve his or her aspirations if given unique opportunities available somewhere else? 

#2        What is the Parent’s True Motive for Relocating?

People move for a variety of reasons. Perhaps a parent has an offer for a really good job and/or the support of family members who reside there. Or, maybe the parent has to return to his or her hometown to care for an aging parent. But there are those parents who are mean spirited and want to interfere with the relationship between the child and the other parent. Thankfully, that is not the norm I see in my practice, but the parent who wants to leave should be sure to do some soul-searching to be certain he or she is at peace about the decision and the impact it has on a child. Again, the risks are steep and these cases are more likely to become a win-lose event, not a win-win. 

#3     Is This Parent Likely to Comply With the Order After the Relocation?

In other words, can the court trust the relocating parent to comply with the order once he or she is outside of North Carolina? This might be the most important factor when the judge is deciding whether the move is in the child’s best interest. Children have the right to love both parents and spend time with each of them. A judge will consider whether the parent will be unselfish, giving their child the opportunity to be a part of the other parent and his or her family. If the judge thinks the moving parent will be selfish and rob their son or daughter of the other parent, the best interest will probably be for the child to remain in NC.     

#4        The Integrity of the Parent Who Objects to the Relocation.

Is the parent objecting to the relocation doing so in good faith? This is the flip side of looking at the motive of the parent who wants to leave, but here it is a different standard. The court understands that every parent objecting to a relocation has legitimate and serious concerns, and may be truly devastated if the court lets his or her child leave. That is always the case. However, there are times when there are obvious reasons relocation should be considered. One example of bad faith is when one parent is violent and/or abusive to the other parent or the children. Let’s assume the other parent, as a result of this violence, wants to relocate. That might be a compelling reason to rule it is in the child’s best interest to relocate and have a new beginning. 

#5       Is There a Realistic Visitation Schedule That Will “Preserve and Foster” the Child’s Relationship with the Other Parent?

How will travel arrangements be made? Is a child old enough to safely fly alone? Is it too far to drive one way, or can the parents meet halfway to exchange the children? Are there any grandparents or other relatives who reside between the homes of the parents can serve as the exchange point? Should a child give up a part-time job to visit during the summer? Cost is a key point because parents don’t always have the ability to pay for travel expenses. But the court has the ability to assign travel expenses in child support part of the case.

[1] Ramirez-Barker v. Barker, 107 N.C. App. 71 (1992). Overruled on other grounds in Pullium v. Smith, 348 NC 6165 (1998).

Amy A. Edwards is a family law attorney in Greenville, NC, certified by the NC State Bar Board of Legal Specialization as a Family Law Specialist, and is licensed only in NC. Laws change. This article is current as of January 2017.  www.AmyEdwardsFamilyLaw.com  © 2017. 

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