Below we explore your options for moving with kids after a divorce.
In Missouri, once a custody order is entered, a parent who wants to relocate with the minor children must provide written notice by certified mail (return receipt requested) at least sixty days in advance of the proposed relocation to the non-relocating parent (as set forth in Missouri Revised Statute §452.377).
The notice must contain the following information:
- The intended new residence, including the specific address and mailing address, if known. If exact address is not known, the city must be specified.
- The home telephone number of the new residence, if known.
- The date of the intended move or proposed relocation.
- A brief statement of the specific reasons for the proposed relocation of a child, if applicable.
- A proposal for a revised schedule of custody or visitation with the child, if applicable.
Once the non-relocating parent is served with this notice, he or she has thirty days within which to object to the relocation by filing a notice of opposition to the proposed relocation with the Court and request for a hearing.
The relocating parent must not relocate the minor children during this thirty day period. If the non-relocating parent does not object to the relocation within that thirty day period, the relocating parent is permitted to relocate with the children without further court order.
Courts require very strict compliance with this statute. If the non-relocating parent does not properly respond within the applicable thirty-day period, they will allow the relocating parent to move (though there is always a possibility that, after a hearing, the Court could order the children returned to the County of their original residence). Likewise, if the relocating parent fails to provide all the information in the notice of relocation that is required by the statute, the Court may find that the relocation notice is deficient, and order a return of the children to the County until a hearing can be held. Of course, an ex-spouse cannot prevent the former spouse from relocating. The ex may only attempt to prevent relocation of the minor children.
When the non-relocating parent files an objection to relocation, that parent often files a related Motion to Modify asking that custody be transferred to the non-relocating parent if the other parent insists on moving. Once an objection to relocation is filed, the parent attempting to relocate must remain in the current residence until the Court has had the opportunity have a hearing and issue a ruling on the relocation request.
This procedure is required to be followed every time that the children’s residence is changed, even if the move is less than a block away from the children’s current residence. Obviously, the shorter the distance of relocation, the more likely the Court is to grant permission to relocate. This is especially true if the distance is sufficiently minimal that there is no impact on a custody/visitation order. But even a short distance, such as one that requires a distance for transportation of thirty minutes or so, may create significant hardship for the non-relocating parent to be able to participate in school/extracurricular activities, and these factors, among others, will be considered by the Court in determining whether to grant a request for relocation, even for a relatively short distance move.
Relocation cases are very fact dependent (i.e. the specific facts of your case may determine how a Judge rules).
Some things that a Court often considers in relocation cases are as follows:
- Will the children have to change schools?
- If so, why would the Court find this to be in the best interests of the children?
- Can the children stay in their school if they remain with the non-relocating parent?
- Was the non-relocating parent active in the children’s lives and activities prior to the request for relocation?
- What is the purpose of the relocation?
- Do the benefits of relocation out-weigh the benefits of the children having more frequent and regular contact with the non-relocating parent, and greater participation by the non-relocating parent in their activities?
- Do the benefits of relocation out-weigh the disadvantages of removing children from their familiar community, school, and friends?
- What are the motives of the parent attempting to relocate with the minor children?
- Is the relocating parent attempting to move only to diminish the role of the non-relocating parent in the children’s lives?
It seems to be harder today to get permission to relocate than has ever been the case in the past. Courts are much more zealously protecting the non-relocating parent’s rights of access to the children than in previous decades. Good, sound reasons for relocation are now required, especially when the non-relocating parent has been an active parent with the children. I have seen very good custodial parents, who wish to relocate for very good reasons like a necessary job change or desire to reside with a new spouse who lives elsewhere, who have been denied the right to relocate the residence of the minor children.
Before you take any action in furtherance of this desire, if you wish to relocate the residence of your children, please find an experienced family law attorney who regularly practices in the County where your original custody judgment was entered. The County where your original custody judgment was entered is the County where you will have to litigate your request to relocate if your ex-spouse objects to the relocation. Discuss all the facts of your case with this attorney (or several attorneys if you want to obtain multiple opinions on your fact situation, as it will impact your request to relocate), so that you have solid legal advice on the likelihood of success before you decide to attempt to relocate. A poorly thought out attempt to relocate could impact the custody of your children.
About the Author:
Christine Miller Hendrix has practiced law in St. Charles County for more than 35 years. She has practiced in many areas of the law, but in recent years has primarily practiced in the area of family law. She has been elected twice by the local bar association to serve as a Special Master for cases pending in Family Court. She has served as a Guardian ad Litem for minor children in cases pending in the Family Court. She is the provisional prosecutor for the City of Wright City, Missouri. Additionally, she is an Adjunct Professor at Lindenwood University, teaching family law to graduate level students in the Masters Counseling Program.