Domestic Diversions

Change of domicile for children of divorce

The New York Times hits a hot button with relocation cases: divorced parents moving and custody issues going back to court.

Leslie Eaton writes (excerpt):
As fathers’ rights groups have organized around the country, judges and legislators have become more sensitive to the heartbreak of parents separated from their children. But now mothers with physical custody say they feel trapped in untenable situations, especially since alimony has become uncommon and the economy remains rocky in many regions. Judges say that they find all custody cases difficult, but for many, relocations can be the toughest and most time-consuming. When warring parents live far apart, it is hard to come up with a plan that allows them to share the child.

“It’s much more difficult to come up with a Solomon-like decision,” said Sharon S. Townsend, a longtime family court judge who is now the state administrative judge in western New York. And the task has only become more difficult since 9/11, she said, as parents have become more reluctant to let children travel alone.

The United States remains a highly mobile society; a 2000 Census Bureau survey found that in a 12-month period, 43.4 million people changed residences. Americans have become more likely to move longer distances, the survey found, and divorced people are far more likely to move than those who are married.

One thought on “Change of domicile for children of divorce

  1. Christopher Chopin

    As a Florida family lawyer, I can certainly tell you the lack of any truly coherent policy on relocation is building towards catastrophe here. The only relevant statute doesn’t activate unless and until you actually petition the court for the right to move, and with the exception of a very small amount of what is for the most part dicta in the case law, the consensus is that without a geographic restriction in the original final judgment you don’t need to petition the court for that right. On top of this, the further consensus is that if you don’t announce your intention to relocate at time of original trial, there can’t be a geographic restriction.

    To “sort of” fill the void, I’ve seen a few cases where judges have been willing to consider long distance relocation without court permission as violative of parental responsibility, or what most states call legal custody. But this is not only, in truth, contrary to the law, its certainly not a resource available to the public at large.

    As a result, despite all of the work done in our state to encourage parents to both be an active participant in a child’s life, we’ve managed to create a situation where a parent with a true interest in alienating their former spouse can quite often get away with simply picking up and moving just far enough away to make a good parent/child relationship impossible. And, I think most shocking and sad, a great many attorneys will advise their clients of just this fact, and actually advise them to take advantage of the loophole, relocate first, and petition for permission later, when no penalty is available and the odds are greater of the relocation being approved in favor of not further disrupting the child’s life. I certainly hope my state puts some real attention into this issue as soon as possible, its probably already too late in far too many cases.

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