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Can you relocate with the kids after divorce in Massachusetts?

Divorce can often provoke a kind of scorched-earth approach in the spouses ending their marriage. They may be ready to burn their whole life down in order to start fresh. That approach can stop you from being overly sentimental when it comes to things like asset division or staying at the same job, just like it could prompt you to decide to move to a different city or even another state to make the best of your new opportunities.

Unfortunately, if you have full or shared custody of minor children that you share with your ex, such a drastic move can become substantially more complicated. Before you start making offers on houses, scheduling visits at apartments or otherwise handling the critical planning aspects of a major move, you need to determine whether you have the legal right to relocate with your children.

Your custody arrangements impact your options for moving

The courts must use the same standard for any decision relating to custody of the children shared between spouses in a marriage, and that standard is the best interests of the children. With the exception of situations that involve serious mental health issues, addiction, neglect, abandonment or abuse, psychologists generally support the notion that maintaining strong relationships with both parents is what is best for the children.

Proximity often plays a role in how much time a parent has with their kids. Once one spouse moves to another state, it will become much more difficult for the other parent to spend an afternoon with them during the week. There used to be a legal presumption that any move requested by the parent with primary custody would be in the best interest of the children, but these days, it is far more common for the courts to need to review cases with a potential future relocation.

The courts want to limit how many relocation cases they see, which means they give more consideration to requests from a parent with shared or joint custody of the children than a parent with sole custody. If one spouse either didn’t ask for or didn’t receive joint custody, the courts will be less likely to order a hearing if they oppose a relocation effort by their former spouse. A spouse with joint custody will have stronger grounds for challenging a potential relocation.

Get ready to prove to the courts you’re moving to help the kids

Having a parent who is socially, professionally and financially secure benefits the children, but that benefit may be offset by the damage to their relationship with the other parent if a relocation precludes regular visitation.

If you want the courts to approve a move that will effectively prevent your ex from seeing the children most of the time, you will need to have a valid, strong reason for making such a request. An offer of employment, a new relationship or even the ability to live with your parents rent free while you get back on your feet could all be compelling reasons.

Wanting to get away from your ex is not, and if they have documentation that you threatened to sever the relationship with the children out of spite, that could impact your chances of securing permission to relocate with the children.