Relocation of Children After a North Carolina Divorce

Relocation of Children Af…

After parents divorce and resolve custody matters, what happens if a parent wishes to relocate a child? If North Carolina is the home state of the child, state courts have jurisdiction over issues relating to the child’s location. A court will always decide matters relating to a child’s custody and visitation, including the child’s living location, based on what is in the best interests and welfare of the child.

Do North Carolina Courts Have Jurisdiction Over a Relocating a Child After a Divorce?

The State of North Carolina and all other states except Massachusetts have adopted the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act. Under the law, courts in the child’s “home state” have exclusive jurisdiction to determine all issues relating to the child’s custody. If a child resides with a parent in North Carolina for six months or more, the state is the child’s home state, and North Carolina courts have sole jurisdiction over custody issues.

The living arrangement for a child of divorced parents, including the geographic location where the child lives, is a custody matter that usually is determined at separation or in the divorce or custody proceeding. If a parent wishes to relocate a child after a divorce, the courts continue to have jurisdiction to determine whether the parent may relocate the child. The parent with primary custody of a child does not automatically have the right to relocate the child.

Terms of a Parental Agreement or Custody Order

If the parents have a written separation agreement or a custody order from the court, the agreement or order may contain provisions relating to the location and relocation of the child’s residence, as well as visitation rights. If a parent wishes to relocate the child to a place inconsistent with the provisions of the agreement or court order, the court has jurisdiction to prevent the move and enforce the agreement or custody order.

If the parents do not have a written agreement or custody order, the parent wishing to relocate the child or the non-relocating parent may seek court review of the relocation by filing a custody action in court. In some circumstances, the non-relocating parent may be able to file a request for emergency custody.

In the absence of written consent of the other parent or a court order permitting the relocation, moving a child in a way that interferes with custody or visitation rights of the other parent creates significant legal risks. Intentional violation of a custody order may result in court-imposed penalties. The non-relocating parent may request court intervention to prevent the move.

If you have primary custody of a child and wish to relocate the child, your best strategy is to consult with an experienced family law attorney.

Court Review of Child Relocation Matters

North Carolina court decisions establish clear principles that apply when a court reviews a situation involving relocation of a child. The court’s decision is based on what is in the best interests of the child, which is the standard that applies to any court determination involving custody and visitation.

Principles established by the North Carolina Court of Appeals apply in relocation cases. The court reviewing child relocation examines these five primary factors:

  • Advantages of the relocation in terms of the potential to improve the quality of the child’s life
  • Motivation of the parent wishing to relocate the child
  • Likelihood of the relocating parent’s compliance with visitation orders after the relocation
  • Integrity (good faith) of the non-custodial parent in opposing the relocation
  • Likelihood of a visitation schedule that will preserve and foster the child’s relationship with the non-relocating parent

The court also may take into account any other factors relevant to the best interests of the child in making the determination on relocation, such as:

  • Distance of the proposed move and child’s time at present location
  • Ability of each parent to provide for the child financially and emotionally
  • Prior history of visitation by the non-relocating parent
  • Impact of the relocation on the child’s social and familial relationships
  • Resources available to accommodate travel expenses necessary for visitation
  • Evidence of drug or alcohol abuse
  • Domestic violence involving parents or the child

Each situation involves facts unique to the child’s and family’s circumstances. The court has broad authority to consider evidence of the effect of relocation on the child.

Addressing a Relocation Situation

If you wish to relocate a child following divorce, compliance with your separation agreement or custody order is essential. If you do not have an agreement or order, the best approach is to seek consent of the other parent. If you reach agreement on the relocation, make certain that the agreement is in writing and signed by both parents. It is advisable to have assistance from an experienced family law attorney when creating any type of parental agreement.

If you and the other parent cannot reach agreement on relocation, your attorney can assist with negotiations with the other parent or their attorney to further the effort of reaching an agreement. If efforts to resolve the relocation issues do not succeed, your attorney can represent you in a court action for approval of the relocation.

Similarly, if you are a parent facing a relocation request from the child’s other parent, you should consult with a knowledgeable domestic law attorney. In appropriate situations, your lawyer can help with negotiations in an effort to resolve the matter without going to court. Your attorney also will explain your rights and options, including legal proceedings in court.

Talk With a Northeastern North Carolina Child Relocation Attorney

At The Twiford Law Firm, our child custody attorneys help clients with all types of custody and visitation issues, including relocation of a child after divorce. We assist clients who want to move a child, as well as parents facing a relocation request from a child’s custodial parent. Our services include helping clients with all types of family and domestic law matters.

With offices in Elizabeth City and Moyock, we serve clients throughout northeastern North Carolina. Call us at 252-338-4151 (Elizabeth City) or 252-435-2811 (Moyock) or complete our online form to schedule an initial consultation.

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