In our mobile society, we often encounter clients who have moved to Michigan from other states. When their marriage is threatened, they prefer to have the support of their extended families and want to move back home. When the couple has children, this poses special concerns.
Barring one parent being negligent or abusive, children need both parents helping in their upbringing to mature into health adults. When one parent moves far from the other, the move necessarily interrupts the children’s access to both parents. Under the law, move away cases are examined carefully.
Some parents know that once the court case is begun, they cannot leave the state without the other parent’s permission or an order of the court authorizing the move. They think the answer is move before a formal action is started.
This decision comes with legal and practical problems. Under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), the home state (the state that has jurisdiction) is the state where the child has lived during the preceding six months, unless the moving parent can show there is an emergency that requires the new state to assume jurisdiction. An example of an emergency would be the parent and child fleeing a violent other parent.
The parent who moves cannot get permission from the court of the new state for an order awarding her custody of the child, because that state does not have jurisdiction under the UCCJEA. If the parents are married, the new state will also not have jurisdiction for that parent to file for divorce. All states require at least three months residence before they will assume jurisdiction. Many require at least six months residence. So the parent who remained behind can petition to have the child returned to the home state. The remaining parent cannot get an order requiring the moving parent to move back, but generally the parent will return when the order requiring the child to be returned is served. Judges often take a dim view of parents who unilaterally remove children and thereby cut them off from the remaining parent. So the returning parent often appears before the court presenting weaker case.
Even if the parent who moved with the child is permitted to live in the distant state, there are many practical problems.
Visitation: Arranging for the child to spend time with the parent who was left behind will be difficult and expensive. Depending on how far away the moving parent lives, there could be plane trips to bring the remaining parent and child together. In one case, Dad traveled from Los Angeles to Michigan once per month to spend a long weekend with his daughter. He also had longer parenting periods, such as every Thanksgiving break from school, every Christmas break, every spring break and most of the summer. In short, Mom spent most of the school year with the child and Dad received the holiday times. This meant that he had to fly from LA to Detroit (where Mom sometimes met him at the airport) and get back on a plane with their daughter and fly back to LA. At the end of the break, he flew back to Detroit with their daughter, met Mom and dropped her off, and got back on a plane bound for LA.
Cost. The parents had to share the cost of the plane tickets and the cost of Dad’s hotel room while he visited during weekends. Neither made a lot of money. The cost of the travel severely strained each budget.
Emotional Toll. Their daughter had to spend a lot of time traveling to see her Dad. Dad had to spend at least 9 hours in the air for each leg of the trip, not counting travel to and from the airport, going through security. Due to the distance, he was not available for the ordinary activities of his daughter’s life: parent-teacher conferences, school awards assemblies, after school activities. Their daughter was limited in her activities, since she could not commit to participate in all the activities. For example, she was traveling to California during the summer and could not participate on her swim team and other activities that continued during times that she spent with Dad.
It was difficult for Daughter and Dad to share in the ordinary joys of life, though they communicated using Skype and phones.
Before any parent gives in to the urge to move with the child to a far-away location, they should confer with an attorney and a child counselor to become aware of the full range of consequences of such a move for their child and for each parent. They should also consider the financial and emotional cost of such a move for them and the child.