As today’s society grows increasingly mobile, many divorced parents find themselves in a quandary when the custodial parent contemplates a move out of state. Does a move warrant a change to existing child custody arrangements? How might the family court handle this issue?
Requesting a Custody Modification
If you are the non-custodial parent, you may be justifiably concerned that your relationship with your children and your ability to spend time with them will suffer it they relocate far away from you. In this situation, you can petition the court to modify the existing custody arrangements. (See South Carolina Children’s Code, Title 63, Chapter 15.) Note, however, that there is a high bar to successfully petition for modification. You must prove substantially changed circumstances such that the children’s interests will be best served by a custody change. As the South Carolina Supreme Court has explained, because the children’s best interest is the guiding star of all custody determinations, a parent seeking to modify a custody order must demonstrate that:
- There has been a substantial change in circumstances affecting the welfare of the child; and
- A change in custody is in the child’s overall best interests. (See Farmer v. Farmer (S.C. 2004).)
There is no presumption in South Carolina law either for or against a relocation as being in the best interests of the children. South Carolina courts have ruled that relocation by itself is not enough to justify a custody modification. The South Carolina Supreme Court, in Farmer v. Farmer (referenced above), considered a variety of factors to determine whether a proposed out-of-state move warrants a change in custody. These factors include:
- The pros and cons of the move;
- Whether or not the move will improve the child’s quality of life
- The reasons for the move (or the other parent’s opposition to the move); and
- Realistic possibilities for visitation that continue to support a parent-child relationship.
Overall, looking at these factors suggests that a non-custodial parent who wishes to change custody arrangements or prevent a move must be able to prove that the move will have a negative impact on the children and substantially burden his or her visitation rights.
If you are a custodial parent wishing to move out-of-state with your children, you can unfortunately expect a protracted court battle if your former spouse refuses to agree to the move. If your ex-spouse challenges the existing custody arrangements, you should be prepared to show benefits to the children resulting from the move, as well as to suggest arrangements to accommodate visitation with the non-custodial parent.
Consult a Greenville Family Lawyer
Custody issues can be difficult to resolve. It is important to have representation from an experienced South Carolina family lawyer who can protect your rights and those of your children. Attorney Robert Clark is a lifelong resident of Greenville and concentrates on compassionate representation of clients in family court. Contact Robert today for a consultation.