In many ways, South Carolina is the easiest and most difficult state in the Union in terms of post-divorce relocations with children. In-state moves hardly ever require court approval. Most other states employ 50-mile maximums. Out-of-state, moves, however, are rather difficult to arrange.
It is always a good idea to formalize parenting time changes, whether or not they require court approval. Many parents mistakenly rely on informal side-agreements in these cases. These pacts, even if they are written, are unenforceable in family court. If one parent unilaterally decides to go back to the way things were, the other parent has no recourse.
Burden of Proof in Interstate Moves
There are many reasons people move across state lines. Most of these moves are job-related. Other people move to be closer (or further away from) family. These moves are usually in the best interests of the parent, but they may or may not be in the best interests of the children. Evidence on this point includes:
- Advantages: Moving parties should frame the advantages in terms of the child’s benefits. For example, an employment-based move might mean more money and a bigger house, or a shorter commute might mean more at-home time. Alternatively, the new neighborhood might be a nicer area with better schools.
- Deliberate Nature of the Decision: Did the parent contemplate moving for several months, discuss the relocation with family, and take the time to get things in order, or is the move a spur-of-the-moment decision?
- New Parenting Time Plan: All relocations, even short-distance moves, usually alter parenting time divisions. So, the relocating parent should proactively propose a new plan which gives the non-residential parent consistent and meaningful contact with the children.
Each parent must have a good-fifth reason for proposing, or opposing, the move. If the move involves higher visitation transportation costs, such as airfare, the court may divide these expenses appropriately.
Resolving Relocation Cases
Pre-filing mediation is often a good way to address contested relocation matters. That’s especially true if the parents agree on the move in principle but disagree about the specifics.
For example, long-distance relocations scare many non-residential parents. They are afraid that they will not have meaningful contact with the children. In these situations, the residential parent might propose a liberal visitation plan or unlimited Skype/FaceTime contact between visits.
If the parties present an agreed motion to modify the child’s residence, most judges will approve it without requiring a hearing.
Sometimes, the parties are too far apart on key issues for mediation to be successful. In these situations, it might be better to submit the question to the court and have the judge make a final decision. That decision will be based on the above factors as well as some general child custody factors, such as the child’s preference and the child’s current environment (e.g. does the child have friends and is the child currently doing well in school).
Relocations are usually an inevitable part of the post-divorce process. For a confidential consultation with an experienced Greenville family law attorney, contact the Briggs Law Firm. Convenient payment plans are available.
Sam Briggs embraces the challenge and stimulation of practicing, with the satisfaction of advocating for our clients to the best of our abilities. Alongside his father Larry, Sam Briggs has created a family and personal injury firm that focuses on creating and maintaining a close working relationship with their clients. The Briggs Law Firm lawyers will ensure that you are always diligently represented and look forward to zealously advocating on your behalf.