How Relocation May Affect Child Custody Arrangements

Making child custody arrangements can be a stressful process. Parents often get caught up in the heat of their anger or frustration with each other and as a result, they lose sight of making decisions that benefit the wellbeing of their child. Luckily the South Carolina family courts consider the child’s welfare their most important consideration; they are able to make decisions regarding child custody that allow a child to thrive despite the fact that his home life has changed.

But what happens when a custodial parent decide to relocate to another state? Can that parent automatically take the child with him or her, effectively severing the custody arrangements the two parents worked so hard to arrange while in family court? Or does a noncustodial parent have the power to stop the custodial parent from leaving with their child?

Latimer v. Farmer

The case Latimer v. Farmer offers a good illustration of how the South Carolina family court examines custody issues that arise when one parent wants to relocate out-of-state. Mr. Farmer and his wife had been divorced for a while, and when he was offered a new job in Michigan, he accepted. In his divorce he been awarded sole custody of his and Ms. Latimer’s child, so he planned to bring the child with him.

Upon receiving this news, Ms. Latimer obtained an ex parte order barring her ex-husband’s move out of the state. She asked the court to either grant a permanent order keeping Mr. Farmer from moving or transfer custody of their child to her. After examining Ms. Latimer’s requests, the court found no sufficient evidence that the move would negatively impact the child’s life or that a change in custody arrangements would benefit the child. Thus, the court denied her requests and the appellate court upheld the court’s decision.

While some states have set forth criteria they consider when reviewing a request for a custody change due to the relocation of one of the parents, South Carolina has not done so. However, this case is a good example of what the court does consider when ruling in custody-related matters. Mr. Farmer’s job in Michigan required less travel, which gave him more time to spend at home with his child. Moreover, even before he was divorced, he would take over care of his child every day after work, despite the fact that his wife was a homemaker. Mr. Farmer was also able to show that his child would be surrounded by stable family members in Michigan, whereas his ex-wife is unable to provide such stability with her nearby familial relationships. For these and other reasons, the court decided that the child’s quality of life would actually be likely improve if she were allowed to relocate with her father.

Factors Considered in Out-of-State Custody Cases

The appellate court’s verdict in Latimer v. Farmer explains that the court, when hearing cases regarding custodial parents who want to relocate their children, narrows its consideration down to two very important factors:

  1. There has been a considerable change in the circumstances surrounding the care of the child that is/are affecting the child’s well-being; and
  2. A modification to the custody order would be in the best interest of the child.

Oftentimes a noncustodial parent, when confronted with the admittedly heartbreaking news that the custodial parent is relocating out of state and taking the couple’s child, may immediately take to the courts to plead for a change. Unfortunately, sometimes this plea for a custody modification is more to benefit the parent, not the child. While it is understandable that a noncustodial parent would not want his or her child to move so far away, he or she should remember that the child’s happiness needs to trump all other emotions.

How to Handle a Relocation of Your Child

South Carolina does not consider a relocation of a parent to automatically result in a modification of child custody arrangements (see Latimer v. Farmer). If you are a custodial parent planning to move your child out-of-state, there are some ways you and your child’s other parent can try to take the sting out of the decision:

  • Be flexible. Your visitation schedule with your child’s other parent may need to change, especially if you live a considerable distance away from each other. Instead of an “every other weekend” type of arrangement, you may need to let your child spend a holiday with his other parent, or have your child spend a month over summer with her other parent. Try to work with each other and be flexible to changes. You both should remember that you’re trying to make the arrangement work because you want to see your kids as much as possible.
  • Encourage communication. State law says custodial parents should make sure their children have access to telephones and computers so that they can maintain communication with their noncustodial parents. Having a good relationship with both parents is beneficial for your child, so make sure she communicates regularly with her other parent.
  • Consider the transportation costs and concerns. How will your child be traveling to see his other parent: By plane? Bus? Train? If you plan to drive him, will you need to take time off work? You may want to speak to your child’s other parent and outline the costs that will be incurred, as well as who will pay for what. Getting these decisions out of the way up front will hopefully head off any hiccups along the way.

Talk to Robert Clark – a Knowledgeable Family Law Attorney – Today

If you have plans to relocate your child, your child’s other parent may decide to take you to court to either contest your decision or modify your custody agreement. In either situation, you will likely benefit from hiring a skilled family law attorney to help you with your matter. Attorney Robert Clark, a lifelong resident of Greenville, has years of experience with the family courts; he can provide his advice on your situation and help you determine was is best for you. Call him today to for your custody needs and a personalized approach to finding a child custody solution for your family.

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