One of the most difficult and emotional issues that can arise in family law cases is relocation, or moving the children to another area. When both parents have been active and have close relationships with the children, this becomes a very difficult topic to discuss, much less reach an agreement on. Many divorce decrees provide a geographic restriction on the parent who has primary possession of the children. The most common language used in Tarrant County is to restrict the children’s residence to Tarrant and contiguous counties (ones that physically touch Tarrant County).
When one parent has not been very involved in spending time with the children, it is easier for the other parent to move the children somewhere else. Sometimes, the non-custodial parent doesn’t object. Other times, the non-custodial parent may object, but the court will permit the move with the thought that there is not much relationship to be harmed by the move.
The difficult case is where both parents are good and actively involved parents, and the primary custodial parent has a good reason to be moving, such as a mandatory job transfer.
Even where there should be an easy decision, emotion can come in and complicate the picture. Either party may become angry and decide to fight. To work out the best deal for both parties in any relocation case, it’s a good idea to use the Collaborative process to work through the issues and come to an agreement.
Here’s how it could work:
1. The first step is to determine the underlying goals, needs and interests of the parties. The goals might include such things as providing quality education, a safe and comfortable home, having extended family around (with various benefits), and maintaining an excellent, active relationship with both parents. In a case like this, it would be helpful to have a neutral child specialist to work with both parties, beginning with developing the goals.
2. The second step is to gather the facts. Is the move voluntary or involuntary? Are there any benefits or any disadvantages to the children from moving or not moving? A move could be based on any of the following situations: career advancement, required transfer, voluntary move, a move to meet a child’s needs, or a move to take advantage of special opportunities elsewhere, among other reasons. Other factors to be considered could include, among other things, the distance of the move, transportation possibilities, the ages of the children, transportation costs, and how much time or what type of time each parent had been spending with the children.
3. The third step is to generate options. Again, a child specialist could be invaluable here. Among the options for many cases would be: move, don’t move, one or both parents take a new job, different transportation methods, different ways of sharing or offsetting the costs, both could move, change custody, change the allocation of time with the children, permit extra time, try video conferencing with the children, arrange frequent phone calls or emailing, or change the holiday schedules, among other things.
4. The fourth step is to evaluate the options and negotiate to an agreement. In the course of evaluating the various ideas, new ideas or plans could emerge. The child specialist can be very helpful in this phase as well.
Relocation can be a very emotional topic for involved parents. Collaborative Law provides the structure, assistance and opportunities to work through the difficult issues in a civilized manner that can lead to an acceptable solution that allows the parents to remain on good terms and assures that the children’s best interests are protected.
The Price Law Firm was one of the first firms in Texas to offer Collaborative Divorce. Contact us today to set up an initial consultation if you want to find out more information.