Child Custody: Relocating Out of State Together with My Child

A father who relocated out of state together with his child.Navigating a separation or divorce from the parent of your child can be a tricky dance as is. But what happens when the court awards joint physical custody of your child and you need to relocate to another state? Iowa’s child custody relocation laws require you to ask the family court for a modification of your custody order before you move.

Let’s take a look at what you can generally expect when you ask the court for permission to relocate with your child.

The Basics of a Child Custody Order

When a couple with children separates, a crucial decision the court must make concerns child custody. The court decides how to handle the legal custody and physical custody of each child. Legal custody means a parent’s right to make decisions regarding the child’s legal issues, medical care, education, extracurricular activities, religion, and other major life matters. Physical custody is called physical care in Iowa, and it addresses parenting time for each parent as well as where the child will live.

The court’s primary goal is to make decisions that are in the best interest of the child. The court’s secondary goal is developing a custody order that provides maximum, continuing contact between the child and both parents. The court strives to award joint legal and physical custody unless it’s unreasonable and not in the child’s best interest.

There are many factors the court uses to determine what’s in the best interest of the child for custody orders. Among others, these factors mainly have to do with:

  • Each parent’s suitability;
  • The child’s needs and safety;
  • The parents’ geographic locations; and
  • The parents’ histories with caring for the child.

Once the court hands down a custody order, you must follow it faithfully, or you risk penalties for contempt of court and/or jail time. To avoid penalties, you need to petition the court to modify your custody order before relocating your child. Modification of an order can take time, so it’s important to start the process as early as possible.

Modifying a Custody Order so You Can Relocate

You might be asking, When it comes to child custody, is relocating out of state together with my child a complicated process? The process might be complicated or simple. The complexity often depends on your and your child’s circumstances and the attitude of your child’s other parent.

There are some questions you can answer to gauge the likelihood of the court allowing your child to relocate.

How Far Away Are You Moving?

If you move at least 150 miles away, that’s a substantial change in circumstances that requires a custody order modification. The court’s goal for modification is to preserve the other parent-child relationship as much as possible. It normally takes a little less than three hours to drive 150 miles. If your relocation is only 150 miles, the court might easily find a way to preserve the other parent-child relationship. But if you’re moving across the country, that can complicate things.

What Are the Other Parent’s Current Custody Rights?

Closely tied to the distance of your relocation is the extent of the other parent’s custody and visitation rights. If the other parent has extensive and regular physical custody rights and you want to move far away, it’s likely going to be harder for the court to develop a custody order that preserves the other parent’s relationship with your child. It’s not reasonable to ask a parent with daily visitation to travel hours to see their child or forgo visitation. In such a case, relocation with your child might be a harder sell.

If the other parent has less substantial physical custody rights (e.g., a handful of days each month), your relocation might not make a significant enough impact to dissuade the court from granting the modification you desire. Also, if the other parent has less substantial custody rights, the court might simply rearrange their visitation schedule to accommodate your move. A court might accommodate your relocation and the other parent’s custody rights by:

  • Extending the other parent’s right to custody during your child’s summer vacation;
  • Ordering more phone contact between the other parent and your child;
  • Extending the other parent’s right to custody during your child’s school breaks; or
  • Requiring you to shoulder the travel burdens for your child to see their other parent.

Before you petition the court to modify your custody order for a relocation, take some time to think about the other parent’s rights and how they might be hindered; then, come up with solutions you can suggest to the court to maintain the other parent’s rights. Coming up with viable solutions isn’t always easy. However, an experienced family legal matters attorney knows what kinds of solutions the court needs to see before granting a relocation with your child.

Why Are You Moving?

Even if the distance of your move is very far and the other parent has extensive custody rights, the court might still find a reason to allow you to move with your child. Some of the other factors the court looks at when modifying a custody order are:

  • Income needs of the parties involved;
  • Employment opportunities for the parties involved;
  • Resources of the involved parties (familial, financial, etc.);
  • Health conditions and needs of each party (physical, mental, emotional); and
  • Remarriage.

The court might be more apt to grant your modification request if you can prove that your relocation is important to address one of the factors listed above and there are reasonable ways to maintain your child’s connection with the other parent after moving.

How Does the Other Parent Feel About the Move?

Sometimes the easiest way to lawfully relocate with your child is to come to an agreement with the other parent. You still need to get a modification order from the court after you and the other parent agree, but you normally have to do less arguing in court to make the arrangement work. While this can be the easiest option, it’s best to speak to an attorney before addressing a relocation with the other parent. Negotiating an out-of-state child custody agreement can get contentious. You don’t want to broach the topic of relocation before you have your ducks in a row. A lawyer can advise you about the best way to open the relocation conversation with the other parent and the court.

Our Lawyers Can Help You Make the Best Decisions for Your Family

At 303 Legal, P.C., we fight for our clients’ families like we’re fighting for our own. Principal attorney Jonathan Schmidt is a top-rated lawyer, and our legal team is experienced, compassionate, non-judgmental, and innovative. We know how scary it can be to put your family’s legal issues in another’s hands, and we treat that responsibility with the utmost care, skill, and diligence. We’re here to lead the way and have your back. You can reach out to us on our website or call us at 319-423-3031.