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We live in a mobile society, and it’s common for people to get a new job out of state or otherwise decide to relocate for a variety of reasons. Moving involves a fair bit of stress and hassle in any circumstance, but this can be magnified when there are children involved. When there’s a custody situation at play, moving out of state can seem very overwhelming.

The good news is that in California, if you have sole or partial custody of your child and you are planning on moving out of state, there are ways for you to do this. And if you are the parent staying in-state and your child’s other parent wants is planning on moving out of state with your child, there are ways you can protest the move. Let’s take a look at some of the ins and outs of out-of-state custody laws in California.

Sole Custody vs. Joint Custody Arrangements

In general, if a parent has sole custody of a child, he or she can relocate at will. If the other parent has visitation, then the parenting plan must be updated to accommodate visits. They might not be as frequent as they once were if the child goes from living 10 minutes away to living 10 hours away, of course! But in most circumstances, there is usually a way to manage visits during school breaks and over the summer.

If you and your child’s other parent share joint custody, this makes moving out of state a bit more difficult. You can try to work it out on your own, but if the two of you vehemently disagree on whether the child should move, you might need to go to court and have a judge make the decision. The judge will look not only at your documented parenting plan but also at how you have handled shared parenting in the most recent period of time.

For example, if your parenting plan states that the mother has sole custody, but in practice, the child has been living with the father on weekdays while attending school and spending only every other weekend with the mother, then be sure to let the judge know this. He or she will take that into account when deciding where the child should live when one parent wants to move out of state.

The Best Interest of the Child

As with anything pertaining to custody agreements, the gold standard is to always take into account what will be in the best interest of the child. As parents, the two of you should strive to take this into heavy consideration. If you cannot come to an agreement, a judge will be the one considering what will be best for your child.

A pre-teen or teenager who has a large group of friends and who is very attached to his or her school might be better off staying at the current school and living with the parent who is remaining in California, for example. On the other hand, a child of the same age who is having trouble with being bullied and who is looking forward to a new start in a new state might do better moving.

There are many variables that will go into determining what is in the best interest of the child, including the relationship he or she has with the parent staying behind, how far away the parent is moving, the reason for the move, the child’s emotional and social needs, and whether there will be extended family or another support system in the new state.

Travel and Temporary Moves

If both parents have custody of a child and one parent wants to travel out of California or out of the country for a discrete amount of time, generally all that is needed is permission from the other parent. The specifics will determine the need for permission: Going away for a long weekend should not be an issue in most cases, assuming it does not interfere with the other parent’s visitation or custody time.

On the other hand, a month-long trip to Europe would interfere with visitation and would also require permission for the child to acquire a passport and board an international flight. Look at your custody agreement and parenting plan to see what the details are regarding travel out of state and out of the country. Also, be aware that to travel out of the country, you might need a notarized statement from the child’s other parent granting permission.

Moving Out of State and Maintaining Parent-Child Relationships

If you are the parent left behind in California and your child relocates to another state with his or her other parent, you might feel as though you won’t be able to have a good relationship with your child. That doesn’t have to be the case, however. Try these suggestions. And if you are the parent who is moving, encourage your ex to maintain a relationship with your child by trying these tips:

    • Stay in touch virtually. With smartphones, tablets, laptops, and a nearly unlimited list of apps and programs allowing for virtual communication, there is no reason that you should not be able to have video chats, text messages, phone calls, and other forms of communication on a regular basis.
    • Plan visits whenever possible. If you know ahead of time that you will have your child for two weeks in the summer and the week of spring break, make plans for those times. It doesn’t have to be anything expensive: You could plan a movie marathon, a cookie-baking weekend, or an afternoon volunteering in a soup kitchen.
    • Work on a project together. What passions do you and your child share? Could you both train at home for a 5K with the intention of participating in a race when he or she comes to visit? Maybe you can learn a new language together and have weekly sessions where you speak in your new tongue.

It is never easy when moving out of state with a child; if one parent stays behind, the simple fact is that the parent will be greatly missed. Knowing the child custody laws in California and modifying your parenting plan as needed can help you stay in touch and maintain a good relationship with your child no matter where they live.


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