Can I Move My Child out of State if I Share Custody?


Nearly everything about divorce is difficult, but the one of the most difficult components of all is your child custody arrangement. Once you have your final orders and have been awarded joint custody with your ex, you can settle into your new routines with your children. Our lives, of course, are not static, and sometimes a move out of state can increase opportunities or is necessary to address setbacks (such as a job loss). If you are faced with a move, and you share custody of your children, you are going to need to address the issue with the court (absent a written agreement with your ex), and you’re well-advised not to proceed without the experienced legal counsel of a dedicated California family law attorney on your side.

The Court’s Objective

When it comes to child custody arrangements, the court always bases its decisions on the best interests of the children involved, and the court finds that – all things being equal – the children’s best interests are usually best served by remaining in their home territory – living in their familiar home in their familiar neighborhood, going to their familiar schools, and retaining close relationships with their familiar friends. The court may consider a move out of state especially detrimental for very young children who are still in the process of bonding completely with both parents. If the court awarded you joint custody, it’s generally indicative that it deems each of you capable of providing your shared children with a stable, healthy living environment. This can make obtaining an out-of-state custody arrangement a difficult process.

Valid Reasons for Making a Move

The court recognizes that making a move is sometimes necessary – and can be in the best interest of the shared children. Any one of the following could motivate the court to take your proposed move into careful consideration in relation to your children’s best interests:

  • If you provide for a greater percentage of your children’s support and your work requires you to move
  • If your move is predicated on providing your children with more enriching opportunities, such as educational opportunities (especially if one of your children has special needs, and your move addresses his or her educational and/or physical needs)
  • If your move will allow your children to establish stronger bonds with members of their extended family (your relatives, for example)
  • If your proposed move is based on a better-paying job that will allow you to provide your children with enhanced opportunities and/or a healthier and more-stable living arrangement
  • If your proposed move is based on a job that will allow you to spend considerably more time with your children while continuing to provide them with a healthy and stable living situation

Every move-away request is utterly unique to the parents, the children, the living arrangements, and the supporting details involved, and you are well-advised to work closely with a skilled California family law attorney who has extensive experience guiding these complicated cases – and who will help ensure that you present your request in its most positive and authentic light.

Obtaining a Written Agreement

If you share custody with your ex and you are facing a move, the best path forward is to come to mutually agreeable terms with your ex – in writing – that address how you will make the move work. If you can hammer out a compromise that allows you to proceed with your move and also allows your ex to maintain a satisfactory visitation schedule with your shared children, the court will almost certainly sign off on it. Because you are the parent who is attempting to move with your shared children, it’s important to do all that you can to accommodate their other parent and to address his or her concerns. All of the following can help:

  • Set up a travel schedule that coincides with your children’s other parent’s availability.
  • Offer to do the majority of the driving back and forth – or to fly back and forth with the children.
  • Offer to foot the bill for the additional travel costs.
  • Make generous concessions related to extended visitations (to limit the need to go back and forth repeatedly). 

The court’s default stance is that children fare better when they have close relationships with both parents, and this is far easier to accomplish when their parents don’t live great distances from one another. If you’re looking to move your children out of state, making this option as palatable as possible for their other parent is absolutely in the best interest of your cause.

If Your Ex Won’t Budge

If your ex isn’t interested in your desire to negotiate regarding a move, you’re going to need to take the matter up with the court, and you’ll need to convince the court that the move is in the best interest of your children. Ultimately, the court will take all of the following factors into careful consideration:

  • How significant your children’s need for stability and continuity is
  • How far away your proposed relocation is (moving 30 miles away is very different than moving across the country)
  • Whether the proposed move is believed to be potentially harmful to the children or not
  • Each child’s relationship with each parent
  • Your relationship with your ex, including your ability to successfully communicate with one another
  • How the move will meet your children’s emotional, educational, and physical needs

The court can factor these and any other considerations it deems pertinent into its decision-making process.

If You Share Custody, Moving out of State Can Be a Complicated Legal Matter

If you and your children have been happily chugging along with your child custody arrangements the way they stand and you’re suddenly faced with a move, there’s no need to panic. There are legal mechanisms in place that can help you find the right path forward. Without your ex’s written consent, however, you’re likely facing a very complicated legal process ahead. Custody concerns related to moving out of state are far too important to leave to chance – or to simply ignore. Consult with an experienced California family law attorney who is very familiar with this tricky legal terrain today.