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Relocation of Children in Virginia

I want to move with my children to another state. What are my rights and obligations?

The relocation of children in custody cases can be very complex in Virginia. This issue can be very sensitive for members of the Armed Forces stationed in Virginia.

The steps that must be addressed by the court and each parent are as follows:

Does Virginia have jurisdiction to hear the case?

Virginia will have jurisdiction to determine custody of your children if no other state has ruled on the issue of custody, and the children have been in Virginia continuously for greater than 6 months. If you have been to court in another state for the same child or children and that state ordered custody, then the other state will probably continue to have jurisdiction to make custody decisions over your child or children. You will need to consult the law in that state to determine the requirements to relocate the child or children to another state.

If Virginia has previously issued an Order concerning custody of your child or children, and you want to move to another state, the first thing you must do is notify the other parent. You will also need to provide advance notice to the other parent of your intent to relocate, the amount of time in advance you need to notify them is no less than 30 days, and may be more. You will need to check your current court Order or agreement to be certain, and comply with its requirements.

When both parents agree to relocation

If both parties agree to the relocation, the court will not normally object to such an agreement. The only time the court may want to get involved is if Social Services, such as Child Protective Services, or some other agency expresses a concern about the relocation. When the move is designed to only avoid the oversight of Social Services, the court can try and stop such relocation. This would be a very unusual situation.

If none of the negative items above applies to your situation, a new agreement or Order can be entered to modify the visitation for the child or children which will take into consideration the distance and travel needs, education, etc. for the children.

What happens if the non-custodial parent objects to the move

The most common relocation issue is when the parent who has primary custody of the child wants to move with the child or children away from the other parent. This case can be very difficult in Virginia. If the other parent objects to the move, the parent who is moving away needs to show the court that the move will provide an independent benefit to the child and will not interfere with the relationship the non-custodial parent enjoys with the child. This means that the reason for the move must be to give the child something that the child can’t or doesn’t receive here. For example, a special school to satisfy a special need the child has, or to offer cultural and other opportunities that do not exist here.

A relocation due to the parent getting a better job elsewhere may not satisfy this requirement, nor a move solely to be near other family members. These are common reasons given for people to move with children, but they are not necessarily good enough reasons to satisfy the law in Virginia.

Considering how the move affects the non-custodial parent

The second factor is how the visitation to the non-custodial parent is affected by the move. If the parent with visitation has an infrequent or non-existent relationship, the move will not affect them and is therefore more likely to occur. If the parent is either extremely active or has a shared custody relationship with the child, a long distance relocation may seriously impair their visitation. In this case, it is far more difficult to satisfy the law in Virginia to permit relocation, as the relationship with the non-custodial parent will be adversely affected. The more interaction the parent has visitation with the child or children, the harder it will be to show that his visitation is not being hampered by the move.

Seeking legal advice

As can be seen, this issue is fairly complex, and prior to attempting to move with a child, you should consult with an attorney to discuss what options and strategies may be successful in presenting your case.

If you have additional questions please contact me via phone, e-mail, or the chat feature on this website.

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