How Far Away Can You Move if You Share Custody?


If you’re going through a divorce that involves children, child custody arrangements are naturally a primary concern. If your child custody concerns – whether related to divorce, a child custody modification, or custody outside of marriage and divorce – the matter of moving with the children can raise significant complications – and anxiety. With an experienced California family law attorney on your side, however, you can make better-informed decisions and can move forward with increased confidence.

Reasons for Moving

Increasingly, there are more and more reasons for moving post-divorce. When it comes to why parents might want to move post-divorce, the possibilities are nearly limitless, including:

  • Pursuing a career opportunity
  • Committing to a new relationship
  • Setting down roots closer to the support of one’s extended family
  • attempting to provide one’s children with better educational opportunities (or any other kind of meaningful opportunities)

When you share custody with your children’s other parent and you’re planning a move with your children – or the shoe is on the other foot, and your ex is planning such a move – it can stir up plenty of issues. After all, one of you is very likely to be seeing the children less, and that can be a difficult hurdle to overcome.

California’s Custody Disputes Involving Moving Away

When it comes to resolving custody disputes related to moving away, the State of California applies state laws and prior court guidance to make highly individualized decisions in the cases that come before it. Unless you and your ex both agree to the circumstances involved in the move – or can hammer out arrangements that you are both willing to sign off on – you’ll need to turn to the court to make the determination on your behalf.

The Distance Involved

Moving can mean many things – moving across town; moving down the street; or moving across the state, nation, or world. For your move to be a matter that the court weighs in on, the proposed move – or moving away – typically has to be 50 miles away or more. A move of this magnitude is believed to cause a disruption in your current custodial arrangements, which requires the court to become involved (if you are unable to resolve the issue between yourselves).

Moving Away: Before Custody Is Finalized

The parent who is planning on moving more than 50 miles away must inform the other parent at least 45 days prior to his or her planned move. If your permanent custody orders are not yet in place at this time, the information will be included in the court’s standard deliberations regarding custody and the best interests of the children.

It’s important to note here that adding this information to the mix at this time (if you are the parent who is planning on moving) can tip the balance against you becoming the primary custodial parent. The court may lean toward maintaining the status quo – in an effort to help your children adjust to the major disruptions they are already facing in their lives – and a proposed move at this juncture could work against you.

In other words, even the timing of your move can play an important role in the outcome of the court’s custody decisions, and you are well-advised to work closely with an experienced California family law attorney.

Moving Away: A Custody Modification

If your divorce is final and/or you have a custody plan already in place, your move will amount to either a request to move (if you are planning to move) or a modification of your current child custody arrangements if your ex is planning on moving away with your children in tow. While the court cannot restrict either parent’s ability to move, it can restrict your right to move with your children, and this is where serious complications often arise. If you are the primary custodial parent and are requesting a move, the court is more likely to allow the move than if you and your ex share your time with the children fairly equally.

The Considerations that Factor into the Court’s Decision

If you and your ex share custody equally, and the court is preparing to make a decision on the matter of a proposed move, it will take all of the following considerations under advisement in the process:

  • The distance you plan on moving away and how difficult and expensive it will be for your ex to maintain a beneficial visitation schedule with the children will play a major role in the court’s decision. If there is a workaround – such as you bringing the children back for regular visits – the court may be more amenable to the move.
  • The reason behind your move is also important. If it will enrich your children’s lives in an important way, for example, it could help move the needle in favor of the move. If, on the other hand, the court believes the move is an attempt to limit your ex’s time with your shared children, it will not fly with the court.
  • The court will also carefully consider your individual children’s relationships with both of you – and the amount of time your children currently spend with each of you.
  • Your children’s ages, needs (including any special needs they might have), and preferences related to the move (if they are old enough and mature enough to weigh in) can also influence the court’s decision.
  • The court will also be interested in comparing and contrasting the community and family ties that are present in both locations and in determining whether they tip the balance toward or away from your proposed move.
  • The court will factor in whether or not you are the parent who is more likely to continue fostering an ongoing, meaningful relationship between your children and their other parent. If so, this can work in favor of your move, and if not, it can work against you.

If your ex is the parent who is proposing a move with your shared children, all of the above apply in exactly the same way – but with him or her in the starring role.