Go along to get along. Or is it, “Get along to go along?” Sam Rayburn said it the second way; author Hillary Jordan went the other way. Here’s a wrinkle: “Get along to go.” As in, go out of state. To make child custody and relocation work, you have to get along with your children’s mother, and the judge.
Virginia Law and Relocating with a Child
Say you are the custodial parent. You and the kids, and their mother, all live in Virginia and are abiding by the divorce decree or property settlement agreement. All is well and good, until you get a harebrained scheme in your head to move to, say, Zap, North Dakota with the kids.
That immediately creates a relocation custody case for a Virginia court to resolve.
If you and your family law attorney petition the court before you move, you are doing the right thing but risking being turned down: the kids and you may have to stay in Virginia.
If you move and then approach the court, you just plain messed up.
Taken from the other side, if you are the non-custodial parent and must fight to keep the kids in Virginia while their mother, the custodial parent, seeks to relocate out of state, what can you do?
Here are strategies for both sides of this issue.
The Bad: Parental Kidnapping
You can make a hash of your life, your children’s lives, and their mother’s life by moving out of Virginia with your children. It’s simple: do not tell the courts or the children’s mother that you are doing such a stupid thing, and Bingo, you could be a parental kidnapper!
Under Code of Virginia § 18.2-47, parents who kidnap their own children are singled out for extra punishment:
If an offense under subsection A is committed by the parent of the person abducted and punishable as contempt of court in any proceeding then pending, the offense shall be a Class 1 misdemeanor in addition to being punishable as contempt of court. However, such offense, if committed by the parent of the person abducted and punishable as contempt of court in any proceeding then pending and the person abducted is removed from the Commonwealth by the abducting parent, shall be a Class 6 felony in addition to being punishable as contempt of court.
If the children’s mother as the custodial parent chooses this option — if she takes your children out of state without due process — you and your attorney have a case that should be easily winnable.
The Ugly: Deadbeat Parent
Let’s say the non-custodial parent, the children’s mother, is not fulfilling her duties:
- To provide child support to you as the custodial parent
- To maintain a healthy relationship with the children
- To engage in parenting time (visitation) regularly
You and your family law attorney have an easy case to make: moving out of state will not adversely affect the relationship — whatever it was — between deadbeat mother and child.
If you, sadly, are the non-custodial parent accused of being a deadbeat, then you must counter the children’s mother’s arguments for leaving:
- Gather all supporting evidence that shows you are committed to an ongoing relationship with your children;
- Show that, despite your economic problems, you are making good-faith efforts to pay child support; and
- Demonstrate that a move out of state would seriously harm your already-fragile parent-child relationship
The Good: Get Along to Go
If you as the custodial parent want to leave Virginia with the children, you bear the burden of proof to the court that you will not adversely interfere with the children’s ongoing, healthy relationship with their mother, the non-custodial parent.
That is a high bar, but you can reach it to the court’s satisfaction if you:
- Demonstrate a regular pattern of assisting in meeting all parenting time appointments, facilitating moves between custodial and non-custodial homes, communicating with the children’s mother, and showing flexibility in scheduling changes
- Show extensive knowledge and use of technology to allow virtual visitations above and beyond physical visits, such as FaceTiming, Skype, Zoom, and other platforms
- Financial resources available to provide for flights, buses, hotels, and other travel expenses so that children and mother can physically meet regularly
- Show that the children’s new school district is equal to or better than their previous, Virginia district
- Compare job opportunities in Virginia with those of the other locale
- Bring in expert witnesses, from educational consultants to real estate agents, to compare the Virginia setting with the desired out-of-state locale
On the other hand, if you are the noncustodial parent fighting to keep the kids in Virginia, you can supply your own expert witnesses that question or undermine arguments in favor of the move.
The point you must press again and again: such a move is not in the best interests of the children.
At The Firm For Men, we are equally adept at pressing cases for custodial relocation or fighting them. Contact us today or telephone our office at (757) 383-9184. Whether you want to move to Zap, North Dakota, or prevent your children from being dragged there by their mother, we can help.