When One Parent Moves After Divorce

Mother and daughter with moving boxDivorce, it’s said, ends a marriage, but not a family. When you divorce with kids, you are never completely disconnected from your ex. In order to see your kids on a regular basis, it’s necessary that you live within a reasonable distance of each other.

Usually, at the time of your divorce, this isn’t a problem. You may have just stopped living with your spouse, so chances are you’re within a few miles, or at least an easy drive, of each other. But life changes. Your ex may decide to move back to their hometown to be closer to family. You may get a job opportunity outside of Michigan, or be transferred by your current employer. Suddenly, someone wants or needs to move. What happens to your custody and parenting orders?

Michigan Law on Parental Moves

The best possible outcome is that you and your ex are able to talk and negotiate an agreement that will work with your expected circumstances. If you do, and it’s reasonable, the court will probably approve your agreement.

But if you can’t reach agreement on your own or with your attorneys’ help, the person who wants to move with the child may need to ask for the court’s permission to do so. Understand when you need to ask for court approval for a move, and what needs to be in place for you to get it.

Within Michigan: the 100 Mile Rule

If you have joint custody of your child, are moving less than 100 miles (road distance, not as the crow flies) and staying within Michigan, you don’t need to ask the court for the right to move. However if you’re moving more than 100 miles, even within Michigan, your family court judge will need to sign off, with very limited exceptions.

Those exceptions are if you and your child’s other parent lived more than 100 miles apart at the time your custody matter started, or if you are in danger of experiencing domestic violence at the hands of your child’s other parent. In the case of domestic violence, you and your child can move to a safe location, though you must still notify the court of your move; the court will keep this information confidential. The court will then decide whether it’s appropriate for you and your child to remain at that distance.

How does the court decide whether to allow a parental move? It considers these five factors:

  • Whether the move has the capacity to improve the quality of life for the moving parent and the child;
  • The extent to which each parent complied with an existing parenting time order, and whether the move is inspired by a desire to frustrate or defeat parenting time;
  • Whether the court believes the parenting schedule can be modified in a way that preserves the relationship with both parents, and how likely it is that each parent will comply with the new schedule if the move is allowed;
  • The extent to which a parent opposing the move is doing so because of a desire to gain a financial advantage regarding child support (such as consenting to the move in exchange for paying less child support);
  • Whether domestic violence has occurred, regardless of whether the child experienced or witnessed it.

Remember that these rules apply if you have joint legal custody. If you have sole legal custody of your child, you don’t need court permission to move with your child within Michigan. But also remember that even if the court doesn’t require you to ask permission to move 80 miles away, your co-parent could still ask the court to prevent you from doing so, especially if the move is likely to complicate parenting time.

Moving Outside Michigan

If you’re moving outside the state, however, you will need court permission. This is true even if you have sole legal custody and you are moving a literal stone’s throw from the Michigan state line. The court will analyze the same factors as for a move within the state.

As a general rule, courts are more likely to permit a move if it seems motivated by an opportunity to improve the life of parent and child, such as for a higher-paying job with better hours. Moves that appear calculated to spite the other parent or make it difficult for them to see the child are likely to be rejected by the courts. Even a move that would otherwise be beneficial may be forbidden if it would be likely to negatively impact the child’s relationship with the non-moving parent. Even if a court does permit a move, it may require the moving parent to pay travel expenses so that the child and the other parent can see each other.

If you are contemplating a move with your child, or if you believe your ex will try to move your child away from you against your will, contact our office to learn more about how we may be able to help you.