Once upon a case, a woman from New York met a man from Cleveland and they fell in love. The man had a successful business in Cleveland and lots of family there. All of the woman’s family was in New York. The woman decided to move to Cleveland in order to marry the man and start a family. They had several children. The woman primarily raised the kids while the man worked. The years passed. The marriage failed. The woman wanted to return “home” to New York with the children. In the practice of Family Law, this sad story repeats itself over and over again.
These are complicated and emotional cases. Almost always the woman in this situation cannot “relocate” to New York with her children, even though the relocation is actually a return for her. There a several reasons for this. But to make a long story very short, here’s why:
Laws generally prevent the permanent removal of children from the jurisdiction of court. Ohio’s law is a perfect example. It is specifically biased against out-of-state relocations, requiring the moving parent to file a notice of relocation, and permitting the non-moving parent to demand a hearing to determine what sort of modification to the parenting plan is possible. While Ohio courts will not prohibit a parent from moving, they can, and sometimes will, find that the parenting arrangement should be modified to keep the children in Ohio. But it is theoretically possibly to relocate if the parent who wants to move can demonstrate that the move is in the child’s “best interest.” The “best interest test” is the heart and soul of nearly every custody or relocation case.
The laws of the United States vary from state to state but determining what is in a child’s best interest, from a legal point of view, has one constant. “Best interest” is in the eyes of the beholder. The beholder is, of course, the judge or hearing officer assigned to the case. No matter how laws defining best interest are written at the end of the day they are necessarily subjective.
An experienced Family Law practitioner knows that the subjectivity of these matters results in formulaic solutions and court outcomes. First, parents are encouraged to work with one another to co-parent after the parties split up, even if they were not able to do this when they were still together. Second, parents are required to foster positive interactions with the other parent (again, even when they could not do this while together.) This often means that geographic proximity is important. Third, parents are required to do things that maintain a stable and consistent environment for the children. Frequently this means prohibiting relocations because they are unsettling, not just for the child and his or her relationships with friends, family and acquaintances, but also because it separates children from a parent.
Thus, the truth is that without a truly compelling reason, courts generally do not allow parents to relocate or simply “go home” with children. Yet, courts do, from time to time, allow relocations. And a person who wants to move with a child can increase his or her chances of getting a court to allow such a relocation.
The takeaway is this: if you want to move with a child you must be able to clearly explain why relocation is not simply good for you or why it is fair. You can, by and large, forget about the reasons why the parents are no longer together. Instead, what the parent who wants to move must show is why the move is actually better for the child and why a move in no way compromises the child’s relationship with the other parent. The ability to persuasively answer these questions from the outset will significantly increase a parent’s chances of getting home.