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Child custody, relocation and military service

Child custody disputes are among the most difficult issues in family law. Unlike many other legal disputes, a child custody dispute doesn’t resolve with a verdict or a settlement, and then send the parties off on their separate ways. A parenting plan requires ongoing coordination between the parents, and may need frequent adjustments and sometimes major changes.

One such major change is relocation. If one parent has to move to a faraway town, it can damage even the most carefully created parenting plan. The legal issues get more complex if one parent must move to another state or country, and especially if they want to take the kids with them.

Relocation cases are relatively common. People have to move for work or personal reasons all the time, and members of the military services often don’t have any say in the matter. It is important for parents to understand their rights and the legal issues involved in parental relocation.

Sole custody and joint custody

Parents have rights with regard to physical custody and legal custody. Physical custody refers to the child living with the parent. Legal custody refers to a parent’s right to make important decisions about the child’s upbringing. This means that even if the children live with one parent full-time, the other parent typically has a legal right to visitation and some say in issues involving education and other important matters.

Most California child custody agreements call for joint custody, in which the child spends time living with each parent according to a schedule. The schedule is agreed to by the parents in a parenting plan, or imposed by the court. If a parent in a joint custody order wants to move with the children, and the other parent doesn’t want the children to go, the moving parent must prove to the court that the move is in the best interests of the children. In a case where one parent has sole physical custody, they may legally move with the child unless the other parent can show the move would harm the child.

State law and military parental relocation

If you have been read this far and you are in the U.S. military, you may be getting concerned. If a parent on active duty is sent to other states or other countries on short notice, how do relocation laws apply to them?

Child custody and most other family law issues are governed by state law. Even when a parent moves with the children to a new state, the laws of the state where the child custody order was enacted may apply. However, all states have laws protecting the rights of parents who are serving in the military.

Every relocation case is different, and it’s important for parents to seek out skilled legal advice, whether they plan to move with the kids, move without the kids, or to oppose the other parent’s move