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How child relocation laws work in California

Given today's tumultuous economic climate, it is quite common for California workers to have to travel great distances in order to find work. In many instances, these new jobs are so far away that a change of the worker's residence may be required - such as a move out of state.

And, while moving to a new location can be a hectic experience by itself, it can quickly become even more stressful if the particular worker happens to be the custodial parent of a child subject to a California child custody order. After all, even though a child custody order cannot stop a parent from moving, it can surely stop the parent from taking the child with in many circumstances. This is why disputes known as "move-away" cases are so common in situations involving California child relocation.

California move-away cases

During child custody disputes, the best interests of the child are of paramount importance to the court. But, when it comes to child relocation, custodial parents are presumptively permitted under California law to change the residence of their child unless the move would "prejudice the rights or welfare" of the children.

Essentially, this means that unless there is evidence that the custodial parent has improper motives for the move - such as impairing the other parent's visitation rights - the custodial parent is generally not required to justify the move or prove that it is "necessary."

That does not mean, however, that the noncustodial parent is without recourse in move-away cases. For instance, when a custodial parent attempts to move with a child, the noncustodial parent can ask the court to reevaluate the original child custody order based on a change in circumstances. In a seminal California case, In Re Marriage of Burgess, the court determined that modifying a child custody order in move-away cases may be considered when the material changes in facts and circumstances are of the type that make the custody modifications "essential or expedient" for the welfare of the child.

Moreover, a noncustodial parent can argue that the move would prejudice the welfare of the child. In Burgess, the court stated that in assessing "prejudice" to a child's welfare in move-away cases, the court may consider several factors, including:

  • The nature of the child's existing contact with both parents.
  • The child's health and educational needs.
  • The child's age.
  • The child's community ties.
  • The child's preferences, if the child is of sufficient age and capacity to reason such a preference.

Given the complexities of California child custody laws, this article is barely able to scratch the surface of what to expect in move-away cases, and as such, should not be taken as legal advice. However, if you are currently involved in a child relocation dispute in California, it is often best to seek the counsel of an experienced child custody attorney. A skilled attorney can review the circumstances of your dispute and help ensure your parental rights are protected.


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