In 2006, the Legislature passed a “relocation statute” to provide guidance to the courts on how the courts should address a parent who wants to relocate, especially since this type of action typically involves creating some distance between at least one of the parents and the minor child/children. The statute mandates that the relocating parent provide advance notice of the intended relocation and that the relocating parent has the burden of proof to demonstrate "good faith and a legitimate reason".
A recent case by the Indiana Court of Appeals further clarifies how this balance is to be weighed by trial courts. Specifically, the Court of Appeals addressed and further defined what is good faith and what may be a legitimate reason for the relocating parent in showing how to meet his or her burden. This is particularly critical if the relocating parent is the custodial parent, as not acting in good faith and without a legitimate reason could be viewed as the opposite, i.e. "bad faith" and result in unintended consequences such as custody modification. The Court of Appeals case is the subject of this blog post.1
In the case, Mother who had the marital residence and acreage in a rural setting, later determined she could not maintain such and relocated to an urban area. Father took the position that the activities and reasons mother sought to move were not meritorious because the same types of activities were available in the area where they both lived. While the Court of Appeals acknowledged both positions had merit, it affirmed the decision as within the trial court’s discretion due to the fact that trial court viewed the witnesses and could judge the weight of their credibility.
In reaching its decision to uphold the trial court's decision the Court of Appeals noted the overarching best interest standard. The Court of Appeals reasoned that if the requirement of a legitimate and good faith reasons posed too high a bar for a relocating parent to meet, an "inordinately high bar", it could undermine a trial court’s ability to appropriately decide what is in the child best interests. The case demonstrates two important points. The first point is that trial court judges have an amount of discretion afforded to by them by the best interest standard for the child/children. Second, both a relocating parent and non-relocating parent, through counsel, have to carefully distill the facts of the case to meet the relevant burdens, act in good faith and assist their client in a position which serves the best interest of the child/children.
This blog post was written by attorneys at Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. who handle domestic cases of all types throughout the State. This is for general educational purposes only and is not intended to be specific legal advice or a solicitation of services. It is advertising material in nature.