Your Box of Chocolates – Choose wisely
It's not all a matter of law and presumptions – relocation that actually serves the child's best interest is also a matter of sacrifice, selflessness, sharing and doing what is right for the children without regard to what might be “fair” or “reasonable.” Though the relocating parent might not know what their box of chocolates will offer, the relocating parent needs to ask some very important questions before biting into one.
The specific factors that should be considered before picking a chocolate and renting a UHAUL are as follows:
- Time actually spent with the non-custodial parent? Sometimes children have increased contact with the non-custodial parent if that parent was not very involved before the move because now there are longer blocks of time to spend together.
- Look at the custodial parent's support system in the new environment. Very little research has been done on healthy remarriages and the adjustment of children but the improved support system is likely a benefit to the child.
- Is the relocating parent going to enjoy enough of a socioeconomic benefit because of the move that it will impact the children positively?
- Can both parents effectively parent alone?
- Do the parents effectively communicate and cooperate?
- What resources exist to handle travel costs?
- Is there a conduct disorder or behaviors in the non-custodial parent that make the move a protective factor?
- How old is the child? Generally a child needs to be at least 6-8 years old to be able to maintain appropriate attachments.
After consideration of these factors, the UHAUL is rented and the chocolate piece is selected, here comes the bite. What is in the middle of that chocolate?
Imagine a relocation based on the custodial mother's desire to move and remarry. Imagine the non-custodial father agreeing that relocation is in the children's best interest. Imagine a relocation where children are allowed to see their non-custodial father any time they like with only seven days notice to buy a ticket, or where the non-custodial father flies to the new children's home whenever asked, stays in their home (the custodial mom and new husband stay out of the house), drives their car and is able to experience life in the new locale alongside the children in their new environment. The non-custodial father attends sporting events, meets their friends, schedules meetings with their teachers, helps them learn to drive, walks the family dog that used to live with all of them. Imagine a relocation where the mother provides the non-custodial father sporting tickets to local events so that he and the children can enjoy the local sports scene together. Imagine a relocation where the children are all provided smart phones so that they can call, text, email, or skype with their non-custodial father at any time desired. Imagine a relocation in which the children are allowed to spend any and all holidays with their non-custodial father, any portion or all of the summer with their non-custodial father, and any and all vacation time with their non-custodial father. Imagine all of this despite monthly grounds for court-action on child support. Imagine this relocation with zero contribution to college costs despite a signed agreement to the contrary, zero contribution to reimbursable expenses and consistently late and unpaid child support. These imaginary kids have hit the jackpot – a relocating parent who understands the importance of the relationship with both parents despite the obstacles. (Let's not forget the sainthood of the stepfather who agrees to support the children's best interest alongside this imagined-custodial mother).
The bottom line is: the relocation in our imagined scenario was for the relocating custodial mother so all suffering must ideally be borne by that relocating mother – not the children and not the non-custodial father. The idea that there will be a benefit to the relocating parent such that it will trickle down to the children only exists if the relocating parent truly understands the social science on relocation and its impact on children and thus is willing to do whatever it takes, and I mean, whatever, to make the relocation serve the child's best interest – not the custodial mother's best interest. You might not like coconut filling but if that is your chosen chocolate, you had better figure out how to make the best of it.
Just like all things kid-related, this stage will pass – all too often; it will pass far faster than any parent envisioned. So, my best advice as a family law practitioner, relocated custodial mother and avid chocolate lover, before planning any move, consider not only the legalities of relocation but also the emotional and financial toll that it should have (and will have) on the parent choosing the relocation as well as the impacts on the children and the non-relocating parent. Relocation is as big of a decision as the divorce itself. Divorce and relocation are adult decisions that have profound impacts on the children involved. Thus, the relocation consequences that flow should be borne by the relocating parent as much as possible, not the innocent children and not the non-relocating parent.
Don't pack that UHAUL and don't bite into the chocolate unless you are willing to act in your child's best interest over and over and over again even if it never seems fair. I can assure you, divorce and relocation are not fair in your child's eyes either.