A parent with primary custody of their children might understandably assume that they can relocate wherever they wish with their child. They may be surprised to learn that in Virginia, that is not the case. If a parent intends to move with their child, they must obtain either the other parent’s permission or a court order. Relocating without one of these things could result in severe consequences for the moving parent, including a change in custody.

If you are considering relocating with your children or the other parent has advised you that they intend to move, it would be beneficial to consult with a Virginia relocation lawyer. A knowledgeable child custody attorney can explain state laws relating to relocation and the notice you must give to the other parent. If the other parent will not agree to the move, we can prepare your case based on the applicable relocation factors and present your request in court.

Notice of Intent to Relocate

The first step in any relocation case is for the parent who wants to move with their children to seek the other parent’s consent. If both parents agree, they can adjust custody and visitation so that the non-relocating parent still spends ample time with the children. The parties are not required to go to court if they reach an agreement, but it is advisable to confirm the modified visitation schedule in writing.

If the other parent does not consent, the relocating parent must formally notify them and the court of the intent to move. Under Virginia Code §20-124.5, all custody orders must contain a provision requiring parents to give 30 days’ advance written notice of any relocation to the court and all other interested parties. An attorney in Virginia can ensure that proper notice is given and advise a parent of the legal steps to take if the non-relocating parent does not consent.

Modifying a Custody Order in a Relocation Case

When a custody order has been issued, it must be followed unless modified by the parties’ agreement or by a judge. To modify custody and visitation, the parent seeking the modification must prove that there has been a ‘material change in circumstances’ that warrants revisiting the existing custody order. The purpose of this requirement is to maintain stability for children by preventing their parents from repeatedly filing in court to change custody and visitation.

In most cases, any relocation that may impact the non-relocating parent’s involvement in their children’s lives will constitute a material change in circumstances. Accordingly, if that parent does not want their children to move, they can seek a custody modification and ask the court to grant them primary physical custody. An attorney experienced in Virginia relocation cases can advise a parent of what factors a court will consider when determining whether to grant a parent’s relocation request.

Consequences of Relocating Children Without Consent or a Court Order

A parent who moves with their children and does not notify the other parent may face contempt of court charges. The moving parent may also be in contempt if they informed the other parent, the other parent objected, and the moving parent ignored that objection and relocated the children anyway. Contempt sanctions may be severe and can include ordering the non-compliant party to pay fines and the other party’s legal fees. In the most extreme contempt cases, the non-compliant parent may be incarcerated.

Another significant consequence of moving one’s children without court approval or the other parent’s consent is a change of custody. While a court cannot stop a parent from moving, they can prevent that parent from taking their children with them.  If a judge is not convinced that a parent’s move is in their children’s best interest, the judge can grant primary custody to the non-relocating parent.

Consult an Experienced Virginia Relocation Attorney

Whether a relocation would benefit the parent who wants to move is not the court’s primary focus in a relocation case. Judges must decide whether to allow a parent to relocate with their children based solely on whether moving will be in the children’s best interests. Additionally, if the relocating parent’s goal is to move and cut the other parent out of the children’s lives, a court will not approve the relocation and may even consider a change in custody.

A parent who wants to relocate with their children should develop a ‘moving plan’ with the assistance of an experienced Virginia relocation lawyer. Our firm can help ensure that the plan enables both parents to stay involved in their children’s lives. Reach out today to get started.