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Relocation, Custody, Visitation and the Big Showdown…

Having practiced family law in Northern Virginia for over 30 years, I can say without hesitation that relocation cases are by the far the most challenging. In our mobile and ever-changing society, families face job transfers, dissolution of relationships and a myriad of life-changing events that disrupt the status quo. 

Once it becomes clear that a parent must leave the area, the obvious question is “can my ‘ex’ block my relocation?”  Although the short answer is, “yes,” the longer and perhaps more accurate response is it depends… Unlike the issue of child support, which is more or less based upon a formula, relocation cases evoke a lot of emotions and are least likely to settle without a full-fledged showdown.

It is well established in the Commonwealth of Virginia that the well-being and best interests of a child are of paramount consideration in matters of custody and visitation.  Virginia Code Section 20-124.3  provides the statutory framework used to guide judges in arriving at a best interest determination.  In a perfect world, parents with dueling custodial interests would set aside their personal desires and work together to foster the well-being of the child.  This is precisely what happened in the ancient tale of Solomon, a story from the Hebrew Bible.   King Solomon was asked to resolve a  dispute involving two women, each claiming parental rights to the child.   Solomon, thought to be a man of great wisdom, felt the child’s real mother would be more concerned with the child’s best interest than her right as a parent.  He proved his point by suggesting that the child be cut in half.  Naturally, the baby’s real mother wanted the child to live, which revealed her true feelings and relationship to the  child.

Unfortunately, in today’s society, few parents are willing to recant from a claim of right by conceding that the other parent should prevail.  Instead, parents often spend small fortunes trying to convince judges to rule in their favor in a hard-fought relocation case. These cases are highly contentious and often require parents to hire a cadre of experts witnesses, as they fight to convince the court to see things from their perspective.  This approach forces the court to make a decision based upon what appears to be in the child’s best interest.  If the child is well adjusted to the community, with a host of friends, family,  activities, ties to the school, and a good relationship with the parent seeking to block the relocation, it may be difficult, if not impossible to uproot the child.  The focus is on what is best for the child, not the parent who may be seeking to move away to improve his or her economic standing.

Finally, there is no one size that fits all in relocation cases.  The Court’s primary concern is the child.  If the parents cannot work out an amicable solution, each will run the risk of an unpredictable outcome.  Although the relocating parent may have great reasons for the move, remember the Court’s key concern is reaching a result that is least disruptive to the child.  If the parent opposing the move has been actively involved in the child’s life, this may tip the scales.

There is no way to know what the court is going to do in a relocation case. These cases are fact driven and will depend on the facts presented during the trial.   If you are facing a relocation matter, it is critical that you confer with an experienced family lawyer to discuss the facts in your case.