Americans are a mobile people. It has been noted that the “average American” moves about 12 times in a lifetime. The United States Constitution gives Americans the “right” to “travel”, i.e. to move among the various states without barriers or permission. Since the Great Recession, wage earners have found they must be prepared to move every year or two in order to keep up with the changing job market—or just the evolution of their career.
During marital dissolution (divorce) cases, Colorado courts are required to allocate parental responsibilities, and physical custody, of the children of the marriage in a manner that best serves the “best interest” of the child. When one of the parents has moved from Colorado before the final parenting orders are entered, the court will look to enter parenting orders that reflect the “proximity” of the parent to the child, as well as an abundance of other factors.
However even after the divorce is final, during the child’s time of dependency, one or both parents are likely to want to move from Colorado to another state. Since the court retains jurisdiction over the child until the child is 19 years old, does the parent have to have permission of the court to leave Colorado? In short, yes. If the child resides with the parent, and will be moving with the parent out of Colorado and away from the other parent, the court must give permission for the move.
Noting the urgency of relocation requests, courts give relocation hearings priority on the court’s docket. During these hearings, the court will be required to balance the rights of all parties:
- The constitutional right of a parent to move, find a new job and a new life
- The constitutional right of a parent to the care and control of his/her child
- The best interests of the child under the circumstances
The court will begin its analysis with each parent on an equal footing. The court will not presume that a child is better off, or disadvantaged, by relocating with either parent. Rather, the majority time parent will have the duty to present specific, non-speculative information about the child’s proposed new living conditions, as well as a concrete plan for modifying parenting time as a result of the move. The minority time parent may choose to contest the relocation in its totality and thus seek to become the majority time or primary residential parent. Alternatively, the minority time parent may choose not to contest the relocation, but rather object to the revised parenting plan proposed by the majority time parent and, therefore, present his or her own parenting plan.
In short, each parent has the burden to persuade the court that the relocation of the child will be in—or contrary to—the child’s best interests or that the parenting plan he or she proposes should be adopted by the court. The focus is always on the best interest of the child. This means that the court may decide that it is not in the best interests of the child to relocate with the majority time parent. Then, if the majority time parent still wishes to relocate, a new parenting time plan will be necessary. Alternatively, the court may decide that it is in the best interests of the child to relocate with the majority time parent. In that situation, the court will fashion a parenting time plan that protects the constitutional right of the minority time parent to care for and control the child.
Issues of a parent’s relocation after a divorce can be tense and complex. Experienced family law attorneys, such as those at Clawson & Clawson LLP, have the steady hand of experience to help guide a parent through this process. The process will offer the opportunity for parents to work together but, if no agreement can be reached, Clawson & Clawson attorneys will present all the evidence about the parent’s relocation to the court in a way to best inform the court to help reach the best decision possible for all parties—most especially for the child.