In a down economy, coupled with the consolidation in virtually every aspect of business, relocation is a frequent issue arising with custody and after the divorce decree is final. As family law attorneys, Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. is frequently asked to advocate for or defend against relocation by a custodial parent with the children.
The reason this topic generates so much acrimony is because it almost always involves the non-custodial parent losing parenting time with the children or having it dramatically reworked. Thus, it is not surprising many of these cases are tried. In every Indiana custody relocation case, there are a number of fairly uniform considerations to contemplate and analyze with your counsel, as follows:
- Timing of the relocation. Is it proposed to occur during the middle of the school year or summer break or school semester (quarter) recess? Does it matter?
- Distance involved. A relocation a few miles or across the state may allow parenting time to remain the same. Yet a move to a city with good air transport hubs may net the same result. The central question is how it will impact actual parenting time and ancillary issues, such as phone contact. Thus, a move across the country or to a foreign country may be (and generally is) quite different. The greater the distance, the more likely for a significant impact on parenting time.
- Transportation and Transfer. A related consideration is how will the transportation be possible year round if allowed. A move to Michigan’s UP may well be much worse than southern California. The weather may prevent or impede drop offs and pickups. In addition, if the parents are effectuating exchanges by driving, are the roads highways and interstates or rural routs? The same distance may have a very different time requirement. How does this impact the current parenting scheme?
- Reasons for Relocation. A crucial factor in a trial court’s consideration of a proposed relocation as set forth in the statute is its purpose. A bitter spouse who is moving to thwart the other parent’s time is treated far differently than a parent who has no choice. Relocation for employment is generally a prudent reason, although it may not be sufficient versus re-marriage or to be with extended parents. The time to sort this out is long before the time of the relocation and its filing.
- Technology to Assist with Relocation. Although there is no substitute for face-to-face parenting time, with current and inexpensive technology, a great deal can be done to maintain a non-relocating parents time with a child. These include Skype, video conferencing, and the like. Attorneys and litigants on both sides of the argument should investigate these tools and application in any given case.
- International Relocation. If the parent or parents are foreign or dual nationals, this is inherently problematic and the application of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of Child Abduction should be contemplated. Where this is not the case, posting a bond in the event of failure to return and time zones should be carefully evaluated in the context of the proposed relocation. It will be very difficult for a parent to maintain consistent communications with his or her child if on opposite time zones. However, depending on the position, a countervailing argument is military families do this with success every day.
- Benefits/Detriments of Current Community and Relocation Community. A very important analysis for the non-relocating and relocating parent is the benefits and detriments of the respective communities. Are the schools better or worse? What contact/connection do the children have with the new community. What will be the lifestyle change (cost of living, etc.). Ultimately, the relocation or denial must be in the children’s best interests and this variable can be determinative if the children’s needs are secondary to the benefit to the relocating parenting.
- Theme/Theory of Relocation. Where may litigants fall short is simply wanting X, relocation in this case, but without having thought through this and putting on evidence about why it makes sense. To desire to relocate just to relocate is often insufficient. Every case has a story to tell and the considerations of this blog post help do this.
- Relocation Evaluation. Custody and parenting time legal issues are often evaluated by custody evaluators. The persons who conduct these evaluations may range from attorneys, social workers, to psychologists. The benefit of having a relocation evaluation is the evaluator spends much more time than available in court in investigating the purpose of the relocation and what is in the children’s best interests. All of these tools, including a relocation evaluator, may have a tremendous use or little at all. Consider your case carefully and these components.
- IPTG Limits. In every case of custody relocation, the non-relocating parent and counsel should be cognizant of the limits of the IPTGs (Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines). They are comprehensive for local distances between divorced parents. This is what they are written for. While they have some application and coverage to relocation cases, this is not their central thrust. For this reason, if custody relocation is likely to occur, the best approach is to put on the evidence (or agreement) covering the precise terms of parenting time. Better safe that sorry. Fixing parenting time problems after relocation is more difficult and expensive.
Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. advocates hope you find these ten (10) tips for consideration useful to your education about custody relocation. They are just a few areas of inquiry. Work carefully with your counsel to formulate a plan that makes sense with the facts of your case. Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. advocates practice domestic cases throughout the State of Indiana.