When courts are making decisions about custody, they have a lot to consider. They have to consider which parent the child will do the best with. They must consider whether the benefits of changing custody will outweigh the disruption from uprooting a child from its home.
What can make these cases even more complicated is when the parents are considering relocating. The law requires either parent to notify the other before moving, even if the child does not live with them. That said, when the child does live with one of the parents and they are planning to move far away, the other parent has the right to object to the move and have the court review it.
Once an objection has been filed, the parent that is moving has the burden of proving that the move is in the best interest of the child. If the relocating parent meets that burden, the other parent has an opportunity to show that it is not in the child’s best interest. From there it is the court’s job to sort out whether it is actually in the child’s best interest to move.
A recent Morgan County case, L.S. v. A.S., shows how useful this procedure can be. This case began when the mother informed the father that she planned to move with the child to Hawaii. The father objected to the move and the court held a hearing soon after. The mother said that it was in the child’s best interest to move for a few reasons. First, she said that she was estranged from her parents. Second, she said that she had “shipmates” in Hawaii that were like family to her. Third, she said that her and the child had allergies and the move would relieve them. Fourth, she said that she was approved for Section 8 housing in Hawaii, despite not having lived there for four years. Finally, she said that she needed a fresh start because of a “possible rape” that had occurred in Alabama.
After hearing these reasons, the court determined that the mother had not met her burden of showing that the move was in the best interest of the child and refused to let her move. This is unsurprising, considering that most of her reasons had nothing to do with the child. The court then awarded the father visitation with the child.
Meanwhile, the father was trying to get physical custody, not just visitation. He cited a number of issues with the mother, such as constant texting and calling during his visitation periods and calling the police when he did not respond. She allegedly interfered with his visitation and parental rights as well. The court awarded the father primary physical custody, with the mother having visitation. The mother then appealed the decision.
On appeal, the court found no issue with the trial judge’s denial of the relocation. However, the court did examine extensively whether the father had presented enough evidence to justify a permanent change of custody. The appeals court determined that there was enough evidence for the trial court to decide that the mother had been trying to isolate the child from the father. Based on that, the trial judge was justified in awarding custody to the father.