You are employed at Intel. They decide to move the R&D facility to Utah and unless you move with your team, you are out of a job. However, your former spouse has a stable job in Tempe and has parenting time with the children one-half of the time and most certainly has no desire to give up his or her parenting time. It is lose-lose situations like this that make “relocation” cases one of the most difficult and acrimonious issues in a divorce.
Arizona law sets forth that a parent may relocate to another state with the minor children if the Court determines the move is in the best interests of the minor children. This is where things get murky – as there are twenty plus factors that a trier-of-fact must consider in determining whether or not such move is in the best interest of the minor children. This includes the strength of the child's relationship with both parents, the financial impact and the child's quality of life in Arizona versus their proposed new location.
In Arizona, the burden of proof is upon the moving parent to prove that such a move is in the best interest of the child – not solely the parent. This is often a difficult burden to overcome – especially when the kids have been living in Arizona for quite some time and have developed a peer network and are doing well in their current school.
Relocation cases are amongst the hardest cases for judges to decide as there is often no right answer. When arguing over parenting time or a parenting plan, one or two overnights per month is not going to have a huge impact on the overall case. But when a judge says, 'Yes, you can move,' or 'No, you can't,' that impacts the Mother or Father significantly – as well as the minor children.
Relocations are "among the most troubling custody cases for courts, parents and lawyers," said Barbara Handschu, President of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. "The outcome is hard to predict. You can give the courts a number of factors to consider, but you never know how it's going to strike a particular judge."
If a move is challenged, parents may face an intensive court hearing with battling research and comparisons of school districts and neighborhoods. In many respects, this becomes like a second custody trial.
Any parent should give pause before moving ahead with a relocation case. Whether allowed or not, children may have to deal with extensive travel, awkward transitions to the other parent's home and spending nearly all their summer and vacations away from their primary home. Preteens and teens especially balk at leaving friends, sports teams or jobs, while young children may be homesick. Ultimately, the parent whose children are allowed to move sacrifices not only quantity of time, but the more casual, day-to-day interactions such as sports games and school visits. Conversely, a moving parent should expect to give up most of a child's vacation time, as well as share transportation costs.
Relocation of minor children is something that cannot be taken lightly – the cases are difficult, uncertain and usually very expensive to litigate. In addition, the potential impact on the children must be examined from every possible perspective before jumping into the murky waters of relocation cases.
The attorneys at Jaburg & Wilk, P.C. have handled numerous relocation cases and can assist you in making sure that your case will be handled with both professionalism and empathy.
About the author: Laurence Hirsch is a family law attorney at the Phoenix law firm of Jaburg Wilk. He is a member of the State Bar of Arizona in the Family Law and Young Lawyers sections. He was formerly the Vice President of the Maricopa County Bar Association, Family Law Section. More recently, Larry was selected as a 2012 and 2013 Southwest Super Lawyer Rising Star and also chosen by the Phoenix Business Journal for induction into the 2011class of “Forty Under 40”. He has expertise representing high net worth individuals who have closely held businesses in their marital community. He can be reached at 602.248.1000 or firstname.lastname@example.org.