A few months ago I was able to take advantage of a very rare opportunity: a two week vacation with my wife and daughter to travel by RV from Duluth to Los Angeles, California, and back. We saw a lot of amazing things that our country has to offer. There were plenty of times along the road where my wife and I shared the idea of “why are we in Duluth when we could be here at (insert name of any destination from our adventure)?” The grass seemed greener in a lot of other places . . . compared to Duluth in early and mid May.
Upon returning from vacation I was involved in a case whereby a mother sought to move with her son and a longtime romantic partner to somewhere at least 1,000 miles away from Duluth. Mother had physical custody of the son and father had court ordered parenting time. Not surprising, dad was not enthusiastic when mom announced that she was going to be moving with her significant other to his new employment location; within the same company he has been employed with for many years.
Dad, understandably, wanted his son to stay in Minnesota; it is difficult to maintain a parent-child relationship at such a distance. But for the mom the greener grass over 1000 miles away from Duluth looked pretty amazing, and she wanted her son to be in the greener grass with them. From Mom’s perspective the greener grass had a lot to offer son and her, even if it was at the expense of Dad’s time with son.
Moving with a child when the child’s parents live in separate households can be complicated if the parents are not in agreement about the terms of the move. If a parent moves with a child or children before a judge establishes custody and visitation then the judge must consider how the new location will be in the best interests of the child. The same can be said for a move that is proposed during an establishment proceeding for immediately after the judge makes his or her decision. The risk to the moving parent is that the judge may rule that the child should stay with the non-moving parent.
The decision to move is trickier if it is done after a court has entered an initial custody and visitation order. The bottom line is this: absent an agreement of the parents to allow the move a judge will determine whether the potential move is in the best interests of the child. Remember, the judge’s responsibility is to be focused on how the move will benefit or harm your child; he or she is not primarily concerned about what the potential move will do for you.
Minnesota and Wisconsin have different approaches on when a relocation motion is required. Wisconsin states that a relocation motion must be filed where the party moves out of state, moves more than 150 miles from the current residence in state or takes the child out of state for more than 90 days. Minnesota, on the other hand, says that a relocation motion is only needed when a parent is going to move out of state. At first glance Minnesota’s position creates an unjust result because it makes it more difficult to move from Duluth to Superior than it is to move from Luverne, Minnesota to Grand Portage, Minnesota. The North Star State does not place a bright lined, explicit restriction on its residents and children to move freely within the state like the Badger State. However, if a parent moves too far within Minnesota one of the parents will most likely file a motion that seeks to enforce the existing parenting time order, modify the existing parenting time order, or seek a locale restriction that prohibits the move.
There are a minimum of three basic things you must explain to a judge in order to get to the greener grass. Without these three basic items you are merely trying to sell a piece of artificial turf. The first requirement is the reason why you want to move. Changes in employment are usually the primary reason for a move to greener grass with extended family reasons being a close second. But these two reasons do not create an automatic right to the greener grass and cannot act independently.
The second thing a moving party must do is to explain how the reason for the move will benefit your child. The benefit to the child must satisfy the best interest of the child test as it applies in your state. If you can successfully explain the reasons for the move and how the move will benefit your child then you have just one primary hurdle left.
The last thing you must prove to the judge is how well you maintained the relationship between the child and the parent while living on the old, less green grass. The quality of the grass that you are seeking to leave with your child is a symbol of the relationship between the child and the non-moving parent as it has been affected by you. If you decimated the old grass by leaving holes and scorching it through regular interference with parenting time of the non-moving party the judge is going to conclude you will act no differently in your new grass, and you will be in your new grass without your child. Moving parents must continue cultivating the old grass that is the relationship between the child and the non-moving parent even while your child is experiencing the benefits associated with the newer, greener grass.
As a family law attorney I help parents get to the greener grass that they seek in a relocation situation that involves children. Contact me today to arrange a consultation on whether a relocation motion should be granted or denied based upon your specific circumstances.