Summertime is finally here, and that is typically when most parents that want to move try to do so– but make sure you know your rights and obligations before you do so. If you have an existing court order or agreement regarding custody that gives the other parent regular access, then you have to take into account how your move will impact the custody schedule. In court, our standard is easy: what is in the child’s best interest? To make this assessment we look at many factors, but usually convincing a court to allow a move that will take a child away from all his friends, school, doctors, and the other parent is not easy.
Sadly, some people ignore court orders or agreements and just do what they want. Well, just know that there can be severe consequences for that. In 1980, the U.S. enacted the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act, which makes it a federal crime for a parent to move to another state with a child in violation of a court order. And if you move overseas without permission, you will likely trigger a Hague Convention proceeding, where the Central Authority of another Hague Convention country will ask the foreign courts to order the return of a child to the U.S. The State Department, which can be of great assistance in these cases, maintains a list of all countries that are signatories to the Hague Convention here:
If a parent takes a child without the other’s permission, time is of the essence in tracking down where they have gone, and in addition to calling the local authorities, there are many resources available, including the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children: http://www.missingkids.com/home
Rather than create total last minute chaos for everyone, try to have a conversation upfront with the other parent– you may be surprised. In several of my relocation cases, the parents have been able to work out alternate schedules without the need for a trial– although we always make sure to submit the final agreement for court approval so that everything is legit. If you cannot work out an agreement, then be prepared for a lengthy trial process– just because you think it is an emergency, doesn’t necessarily make it a judicial emergency.
In the end, while every parent has a Constitutional right to move wherever s/he wants to go, that doesn’t give that person the right to just move with a child in violation of established agreements or court orders. It took two people to bring the child into this world, and like it or not, for the next 16-18 years after s/he is born, they will have to work together to coordinate a custody schedule that promotes that child’s best interest.
By Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.