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How Does California Law Handle Post-Divorce Move-Away Situations?

Posted on in Child Custody and Visitation

Los Gatos divorce child relocation attorneyMaking sure a child maintains a good relationship with both parents after a divorce is a worthy goal. It can also be difficult to achieve. It is not uncommon for one parent to need to move to a new home and community for work or family reasons. When this happens, it can upend the child custody and visitation agreement that was originally worked out.

Overview of California Law on Child Custody

California law encourages parents to work out their own agreement with regard to child custody and visitation. Once that agreement has been approved by a judge, it has the force of a court order. Violation of that order can result in a criminal contempt proceeding. Specifically, if one parent violates that order, such as by moving to a location that would make it impossible to follow the agreed parenting time schedule, the other parent can file an Order to Show Cause and Affidavit for Contempt with the court. The parent in violation can be subject to criminal penalties such as community service, jail time, and/or fines. 

How Child Custody Law Applies to One Parent Moving Away

California law does not specifically require that divorced parents remain within a certain distance of one another to facilitate visitation. Parents are free, however, to include a requirement in their parenting plan that both parents remain within a certain geographic area. Then, if one parent tries to violate that agreement by moving far away, the other parent has legal recourse. If such a clause was not included in the court-approved parenting plan, then the issue becomes less clear. 

Technically, if one parent was granted sole physical custody of a child, that parent is free to move wherever they want with the child. If the non-custodial parent wants to prevent that move, they can petition the court for a post-judgment modification to change their custody and visitation order. If the parents were granted joint physical custody, then the parent wanting to move will need to petition the court for a change in the custody order. 

Because the “best interests of the children” are paramount under California law, a parent who wishes to move or a parent who opposes a move will have to demonstrate why the move would or would not be in children’s best interests. An attorney experienced in both mediating and litigating child custody matters can provide invaluable assistance in achieving a positive resolution. You may be able to negotiate a new agreement that takes some of the sting out of a move, such as a way to share costs of long-distance visitation and a plan for frequent “virtual visits” via video calls.

Consult a Los Gatos, CA Family Law Attorney

If you have concerns about your child custody agreement or want to change it, consult a Los Gatos child custody lawyer. Attorney Benita Ventresca has practiced family law and divorce mediation in Santa Clara County for 40 years. She has helped hundreds of parents resolve divorce-related disputes quickly and peacefully without the need for costly litigation. Contact our office at 408-395-8822 to schedule your free initial consultation.


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