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Divorce is a complex matter, especially when children are involved. The process can become even more complicated when a parent chooses to move to a new home or state. A parent’s decision to move out of state and how it affects custody decisions regarding their children can quickly become a contentious matter. To smooth the divorce process and the adjustment time after the divorce, it is critical to learn the ins and outs of relocating with sole or joint custody of your children.
If a divorced parent is considering moving out of state or more than 100 miles away from the original location, both parents should seek legal representation immediately. The state of Arizona’s Family Court strives to ensure all decisions are made while considering the best interests of the children, and an experienced attorney can help parents address child custody matters with this in mind. If you’re looking for an experienced child relocation attorney in the Phoenix area, The Valley Law Group can provide the guidance you need to navigate this difficult matter.
Arizona’s Child Custody and Parental Relocation Laws
According to Arizona law, any move to a new address is defined as relocation. For that reason, whether you move down the street or to a new state entirely, the address change means you’ve relocated. Regardless of where you move, you must inform your child’s other parent of this decision and discuss how it will affect child custody – known in Arizona as “parenting time.”
This is because relocation can create difficult issues for child custody arrangements. If you or your ex-spouse are planning to move, it’s vital for you to consult with an experienced attorney before the move occurs. Relocation can either be a seamless modification to the current child custody arrangement or a new battleground in a difficult family relationship. Because relocation can affect a non-custodial parent’s access to the child (or children), it’s important to reach a mutual arrangement in the child’s best interests.
For example, should a parent wish to relocate out of state with the child, the other parent has the right to petition against the move. If the judge agrees that the move will not be in the best interest of the child, the parent can still relocate, but they cannot bring their child with them. If the move is allowed to proceed, the existing child custody arrangement will likely need to be re-opened and amended to reflect the new distribution of custody and visitation time. It’s cases like these that make child custody relocation legal services crucial.
The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act
Almost every state in the U. S. has adopted the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA). This law ensures that the court making the initial child custody order has exclusive jurisdiction over custody matters for the children involved. The state this court operates within is considered the child’s default home state.
The UCCJEA must be abided by if two requirements are met:
- One of the child’s parents still lives in the home state.
- The state was the child’s home state within six months prior to the most recent legal action filed through the court.
If no state is considered the home state, another state can be established as the home state. This state will then have jurisdiction over any custody matters that arise. To qualify, the child and parent must show a “significant connection” to the new home state.
Several different factors are considered when determining a new home state, including:
- The child’s relationship with both parents
- Any external or dangerous factors, including domestic violence
- The child’s physical presence in the state
- The state’s ability to meet the child’s needs
- The distance between the two states
- And more
It is essential to secure a valid court order regarding child custody, as parents can face legal consequences when relocating and violating a court order. To change this court order, a parent must file – and the court must approve – a modification. A skilled Arizona child custody attorney is essential to ensure the process is simple and effective.
Modifying an Arizona Custody Order Under the UCCJEA
If necessary, you can request a modification to your child custody order issued under the UCCJEA.
Typically, the original order will be upheld, but there are two cases where you may be granted a modification:
- The child and both parents have relocated out of state but not to the same state.
- The court determines that the jurisdiction over the custody case isn’t optimal, as another state has more contact with the child and parents.
If granted, the state will issue a new custody order, including the modification, and this must be detailed before a new home state can update its custody order. This is a lengthy process, but one that can be completed much more efficiently with an Arizona divorce and family law attorney.
Requesting an Emergency Order Under the UCCJEA
If your child is at risk due to an abusive parent or toxic environment, you can request an emergency order under the UCCJEA. Emergency orders are only temporary, but these are designed to keep children safe from dangerous parents. The parent with full custody must still return to the home court and have the original order modified or eliminated. However, until then, you are able to file an emergency order if it benefits the child.
What to Do If One Parent Decides to Move Out of Arizona
There are other aspects of Arizona law you must consider before proceeding with relocation, petitioning against relocation, or requesting a modification.
What to Do Before Relocation
Before a parent relocates, the moving parent is required to submit an official notice to the non-moving parent. The notice must occur at least 60 days before you can relocate the child more than 100 miles away from the original address, even if the new address is within Arizona. This notice must be made by certified mail, and if this isn’t done correctly, it may be subject to sanctions. If a prior provision for relocation exists, or if a court order prevents the child from relocating, you cannot relocate the child but can still relocate yourself.
Failure to meet certain procedural requirements before the relocation can result in a change in your custody rights and even criminal charges.
Petitioning a Parental Relocation
Alternatively, if you are a parent without primary custody and the other parent wishes to relocate with your child, seeking an Arizona relocation attorney is crucial. It is important to act quickly to retain your parenting time. Should you wish to block the relocation of your children, you have 30 days from receiving the notice to request a hearing. For the court to block the child’s relocation, your attorney must be able to prove the following:
- The move is not in the child’s best interests
- The move is not being made in good faith.
Keep in mind that if the parent with primary custody is moving due to employment requirements, health, or other extenuating circumstances, the parent is allowed to temporarily relocate their child.
Considering the Child’s Best Interests
The relocating parent must be able to prove that the move is in the best interests of the child. In other words, the burden of proof lies on the relocating parent, and it’s up to that parent to show the move is being made in good faith. The judge will consider the child’s relationship with the non-moving parent, as well as the emotional, developmental, and physical effects the relocation could have on the child. Hiring a child relocation attorney can strengthen your case for relocating your child.
The moving parent isn’t required to provide a visitation schedule, but the court will still ensure the child is able to maintain a strong, meaningful relationship with both parents after the relocation is complete. In many cases, the relocating parent may modify the court order to allow the child to spend additional time, such as vacation time, with the non-moving parent. No matter the decision, both parents must abide by the court’s ruling.
Like custody decisions, visitation can change depending on how it affects the child’s best interests. If a parent wishes to change the visitation schedule, they must file a motion through the court. There must be a one-year gap between the original custody and the parenting schedule order before changes will be accepted. However, if there is evidence of a toxic environment, such as domestic violence, an emergency modification may be granted before the one-year requirement.
Arizona Family Court Makes the Final Decision
After considering all factors of the divorce and child custody case, the court will make a final decision regarding whether a parent can relocate with the child.
This decision is based on the factors previously mentioned, as well as:
- The relocating parent’s intention to move
- Which parent is the primary caretaker
- The wishes of both the parents and the child
- How the relocation will affect the child’s overall well-being
- How well the child adjusts to the current environment
No matter your circumstances, it’s imperative to secure representation from child relocation lawyers who can examine your case and achieve the best solution possible.
Why Do I Need a Child Relocation Attorney?
While it’s possible to navigate child custody and relocation matters on your own, this is both difficult and risky. By consulting with child relocation lawyers, you can fully explain your situation to someone who understands Arizona law and its intricacies. You’ll know what to expect whether you are the relocating parent or are attempting to prevent your child’s other parent from moving.
Attorneys are also knowledgeable regarding Arizona parenting laws. While Arizonans can certainly do their own research on law in the state, there are certain details that can easily be overlooked by the average parent. An attorney knows these details and can build a strong case for you. Also, any divorce-related matter can be complicated and emotionally driven, which makes creating your own case difficult. Having legal representation allows you to focus on other matters involved in your situation while your team works on building a case for you.
In addition, relocating without following the proper procedures means you could face repercussions. Not only could you face legal trouble, but the judge may amend the custody order in the other parent’s favor as a result of your actions. Likewise, if a parent wishes to relocate, but you disagree, it is crucial to seek an attorney’s help to file a motion to prevent it immediately. Filing motions against relocation can be complicated, but with legal representation, you have a better chance of achieving the results you want.
Arizona Relocation Laws FAQs
Relocation cases in Arizona can be stressful, especially if you have additional circumstances that complicate the case. Below are some frequently asked questions our team has received regarding child relocation.
The Valley Law Group for Arizona Child Custody and Relocation
No matter the circumstances, determining child custody can be challenging, stressful, and overwhelming for both the parents and children. Even after child custody has been finalized, things can still change and will require a timely notification, petition, and modification to ensure the changes meet the child’s best interests. The experienced attorneys at The Valley Law Group have amassed decades of experience handling child custody and relocation in Arizona.
Our team delivers world-class legal services to Arizonans in need through scrupulous attention to detail, time-tested best practices, and unfailing devotion to client service. Our award-winning attorneys understand that service begins and ends with them, and we are fortunate to enjoy positive, lasting relationships with our clients, both large and small.