Here’s one I hear a lot from my clients or their soon-to-be ex-spouses: “It’s too expensive to live on Long Island so I need full custody in order to move.” First off, tell me something I don’t already know. In fact, there’s a good chance that money issues were responsible for the couple sitting across from one another contemplating divorce in the first place.
Financial stress a leading cause of divorce and the earlier it appears in a marriage the more difficult it is to overcome as relationships mature, change and children are introduced into the mix. A 2012 study conducted at Kansas State University found that, “financial disagreements are stronger predictors of divorce relative to other common marital disagreements.” The study goes on to demonstrate that the earlier these cracks appear, the greater the predictability and likelihood of marital strife that often leads to separation or divorce.
So let’s assume that we all understand that marriage is difficult enough without financial pressure. Now please understand that running away from your familial responsibilities if there are children in the mix is no way to deal with things. Time and again I listen to Long Islanders who want to change their agreements post-divorce in order to seek a new, more financially comfortable life somewhere else. North Carolina, Arizona, Florida… “Anywhere but here” is a popular mantra. The rationale sounds pretty good and usually goes something like this: “If I lower my cost of living, I’ll be able to give more to my children.”
Great in theory. In practice, there are several moving parts to consider.
Every case is different, but in general, not very easy. The parent wishing to relocate the children will have to show that the move is in the children’s best interest, and not just in that parent’s best interest. If the issue is money problems, the parent will have to show that all possibilities of improving his or her finances here has been exhausted, unless it is due to nonpayment of support from the other parent. The comparison of schools and crime rates will also come into play, as well as the location of extended family and how much they are involved with the children.
A big factor will be how often does the other parent see the children and participate in the children’s school life and other activities. A new spouse out of state is not necessarily a good enough reason. A better job out of state is not necessarily a good reason. Acrimony between parents might be a good enough reason, if the moving party is not primarily at fault, and the acrimony rises to such a level as to endanger the mental wellbeing of the children. The distance is very important. The court is more apt to approve a relocation to a neighboring county than to another state or across the same state. There is even a case where a father only had supervised visitation pursuant to an Order of Protection, and the Court did not allow the relocation.
Because you chose to get married here, settle down, buy a home and have a family, Long Island might as well be Hotel California. (You know the words.) Unless there is complete consent and an overarching reason to move a child away from one of his or her parents, the courts are reluctant (at best) to allow this to happen.
Your divorce was likely the most emotionally taxing thing your children have been through – something that will stay with them for their entire lives. You know this, they know this and the courts know this, which is why the system rightfully attempts to preserve some semblance of normalcy for children involved in these circumstances.
If you want to avoid your children being relocated, make sure to be up to date in your support payments (not supposed to be a factor but often is), use all of your scheduled time with your children, go to all their school events and extracurricular activities, and try to avoid any and all confrontations with the custodial parent and never talk bad about the other parent to the children. Not only will this help in terms of preserving your rights, it’s just good parenting.