If you are a single parent considering moving from Massachusetts to another state with your child, it is vital to understand your rights and obligations. Acting first and asking questions later could lead to a heated child custody dispute that ends with plans gone awry and disappointed parents and children.
Requirements for Moving Out of State With Your Child
Moving out of Massachusetts and bringing one's child along is called "removal." If the child is a Massachusetts native or has lived in the state for at least five years, the child's other parent or the court must agree to the move.
This law applies to people who have dealt with the court for divorce, alimony (separate support), child custody or paternity. The law is not relevant for people who are still married and have not been to the court with the above issues - but it can affect people who are still married and going through a divorce.
If the parent who leaves Massachusetts fails to get permission from either the court or the other parent, the other parent can seek custody of the child. The other parent must do this within six months.
The Child's Best Interest
Child custody is split into two areas: legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody is the right to make major decisions about a child, such as education, health care and religion. Physical custody concerns where the child lives.
If the parent who has sole physical custody asks the court for permission to remove and relocate the child , the court will analyze the situation based on the child's best interest.
The court will want to see that the custodial parent has a good reason for moving. The reason must be sincere, such as wanting to be with a new spouse or needing to start a new job. Moving away so that the child's other parent cannot see the child would not be considered a good or sincere reason.
The court will also look at whether the move will benefit the child. In addition to the reasoning that a happy parent helps make a happy child, the court will look at whether the new state will provide better schooling, health care or contact with extended family.
If the physical custody of the child is roughly equal between the parents, the court will focus on the benefit to the child, rather than the benefit to child and parent. This is because of the importance of preserving the child's relationship with both parents.
How a Lawyer Can Help
Before you leave the state, check with a Massachusetts family law attorney to ensure that you are taking the proper steps. Clearly, this is not as easy as simply making a decision and hiring a moving van. Speaking with a lawyer now could prevent serious legal headaches in the future.