What Happens If I Re-Marry or Relocate After Receiving Joint Custody?
Child custody arrangements are usually made at the same time a couple is undergoing a divorce, though these arrangements are sometimes made with unmarried couples. A child custody arrangement includes details on physical custody (and visitation rights, if any) and legal custody. Physical and legal custody can both be classified as either sole or joint, depending on whether one parent or both parents will have custody over the child. The custody arrangement must be in the child’s best interests.
Sometimes the custodial parent remarries or relocates. In the case of remarriage, a new individual would be entering the life of the child. In the case of relocation, the custodial parent often plans on taking the child with them—either to another location within the same state, a different state, or a different country. The most important thing to keep in mind is that remarriage and relocation represent a significant change for children, especially for children of tender age. Overall, the remarriage or relocation must not be detrimental to the child’s wellbeing and must always promote the best interests of the child.
When the custodial parent remarries, the stability in the child’s life can be dramatically altered. Remarriage of the custodial parent involves introducing a new individual into the child’s life, can sometimes involve a new family home, and often involves a new living arrangement—new siblings. The custodial parent’s new spouse may have a beneficial impact on the child such that the child’s life is made more stable. With respect to the custody agreement, it is very unlikely that the custodial parent’s remarriage to an individual with a healthy and positive relationship with the child would prompt the judge to modify the custody agreement. In order for the judge to consider such modification, there would need to be a significant change upon the child’s wellbeing so as to affect the child’s best interest.
If, however, the judge determines that the child’s best interests will be detrimentally affected by the remarriage, the custody agreement may need to be modified. Examples of these circumstances include abuse, neglect, drugs, alcoholism, or other conduct by the new individual that is likely to cause havoc in the child’s life. When evidence bearing upon these facts is shown, the judge may modify the custody agreement and take custody away from the custodial parent in order to protect the best interests of the child.
When the custodial parent decides to relocate to another state or country, it is important to keep in mind that such relocation could affect the custody agreement. A relocation is less likely to affect custody and visitation when the noncustodial parent can still visit the child and when the relocation is overall in the best interests of the child (e.g., custodial parent has a new job that makes significantly more money; a relocation closer to extended family members). Overall, whether the relocation demands that the judge revise the custody agreement is based on the facts and circumstances of each case.
When both parents are entitled to make major decisions about the child’s upbringing, many states require that the parent seeking to relocate with their child first file a motion with the court regarding the proposed move. The judge must then decide whether the move would impact the best interests of the child. Courts tend to rule that an entire move to a different state—or especially to a different country—would significantly disrupt the child’s life. Therefore, the custodial parent seeking to move with their child bears the burden of convincing the court that the relocation would be good for the child, while the non-custodial non-relocating parent bears the burden of proving that the relocation would harm the child’s wellbeing.
Factors that the court considers in determining whether the move would be in the child’s best interests include the child’s age, the distance of the move, and the extent to which the child’s life would be better after the move. Older children may be more attached to their current living situation and environment; therefore, there may be a greater chance of harming the child’s wellbeing in these cases. Similarly, if the move is across the state, there is little distance and little change on the non-custodial parent’s visitation rights. However, if the move is across the country or in a different country, the visitation rights would be significantly impaired. Lastly, the judge will consider how the child will benefit from the relocation. An example of a beneficial situation after the relocation includes an increased annual income by the custodial parent.