Divorce and Out-of-State Moves: A Look at the Tricky Custody Issues that Exist in This Era of Increased Mobility

Each year, over 6 million people in the U.S. will move to a different state.  Statistics show moving several hours away from one’s home state, a rarity in previous decades, has now become commonplace.  Moves are often spurred by job opportunities, decreased cost of living, a desire to be closer to family, and the need for change.  The decision to move out-of-state is never an easy one, as it means significant expense, stress, and the uprooting of the family.  For divorced couples with children, however, a move to another state becomes a whole different level of complication.

Today, most divorce experts agree that the most contentious and fastest-growing type of custody litigation is relocation cases.  These cases involve a parent who wants to move with their child over the other parent’s objections.  One theorized reason for the uptick in relocation cases has been linked to the increased role of fathers in today’s society.   More and more fathers have taken an active role in the lives of their children even after divorce, and many are now refusing to allow mothers to move their children out-of-state, at least not without a battle.  Another possible reason is simply the increase over the decades in the number of parents who move out-of-state to improve their current situation.

Each state has specific guidelines for parents desiring to move to another state with their children.  Some states require express court permission to move, whereas others allow the custodial parent total control.  Most states express a rebuttable presumption either in favor of or against relocation.  For instance, eleven states require the relocating parent prove the move is in the child’s best interest.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, five states, including Mississippi, place the burden on the opposing parent to show the move constitutes a change in circumstances necessitating a custody modification hearing.

In Mississippi, there is no specific statute that requires a custodial parent to obtain court permission to relocate.  Therefore, the custodial parent is free to move with the children but must notify the court and their former spouse of the change in address.  The non-custodial parent may petition the court for a modification of custody in order to halt the move or alter the custody agreement.  In addition to proving the move constitutes a change in circumstances so as to warrant a modification hearing, a non-custodial parent in Mississippi must also show the best interests of the child require a change in custody.

At a custody modification hearing, the court will consider the impact of the proposed move on the child and both parents.  They will determine whether the reasons for the move are justifiable and whether the non-custodial parent has established a change of custody would be in the best interests of the child.  If the non-custodial parent can meet his or her burden, the parent seeking relocation can lose custody of the child if the move is not abandoned.

Even if relocation occurs, the court can amend the custody arrangement to create an arrangement that works for both parents and the child despite the distance between the parties.  The non-custodial parent may receive more time over the summer, vacations, and weekends, for instance.

Relocation cases are complex and often involve heated emotions.  Both parents no doubt desire to do what is best for their children, but this leads to clashes over important decisions like out-of-state moves.  Matthew S. Poole has years of experience representing parents in relocation cases.  His knowledge of the intricate child custody laws is second to none.  If you are involved in a potential relocation case, call Matthew today at (601) 573-7429 for a free initial consultation.

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