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Divorce & Relocation in Denver

Will my custody rights be affected by a move?

In today’s mobile society, the issue of relocation has become increasingly prominent in Colorado family law cases. And increasingly complicated. Legal standards have changed, and courts now take a different approach when deciding custody issues that involve moving a child. The focus is always on the best interests of the child, rather than the parents. However, courts also recognize and strive to balance the competing rights of parents.

Whether you are seeking an initial order allowing to move with your child, a modification to a current child custody agreement to allow relocation of a child, or you are attempting to prevent a proposed relocation, a knowledgeable Denver family attorney at Jones Law Firm, PC can help. Courts consider a wide array of factors in their decisions, and our dedicated legal team could help you present evidence to show how your objectives fit with the child’s best interests.

Child Custody Laws and Relocation

In Colorado statute §14-10-124, lawmakers indicated that they want to encourage “frequent and continuing contact between each parent and the minor children” after parents separate. When one parent moves a significant distance away, of course, frequent physical contact can be challenging, if not impossible. Courts have ruled that parents have the right to move, but they balance that right with a parent’s right to spend time with their child. Thus, a court will not generally prevent a parent from moving, but they may change custody arrangements so that a child lives primarily with the parent who remains in the geographical area.

The timing of the relocation and the distance involved play key roles in the determination. Both the parent who wishes to move and the parent who might want to seek a modification in parenting time should begin working with an experienced family law attorney as soon as possible to ensure their actions comply with legal requirements and put forward their best arguments.

Some of the questions our clients commonly ask about relocation include:

1. What should I do if I want to relocate with my child?

Because relocation cases involve complex factual determinations, the law requires that when a parent with primary physical custody desires to relocate somewhere that “substantially changes the geographical ties between the child and the other party,” that parent must provide detailed written notice to the other party as soon as possible. Under Colo. Rev. Stat. §14-10-129(1)(a)(ii), that notice should include:

  • The location of the proposed new residence
  • The reasons for the relocation
  • A proposal for a revised parenting time plan

In addition to giving proper notice, it is a good idea to prepare evidence and reasoning to show the other parent and the court why the relocation serves the child’s best interests.

2. Does it matter if I want to move within the state of Colorado with my child?

In relocation cases, courts consider a modification of parenting time if the parent “with whom the child resides a majority of the time” wants to move someplace that “substantially changes the geographical ties” between the child and the other parent. Therefore, crossing state lines may not be as important as distance or other geographical challenges. Even in-state relocations may trigger the need to reassess an existing parenting plan.

In fact, any proposed change of residence that makes it more difficult for the other parent to see the child could conceivably be considered a “substantial” change in geographic ties that could lead to a modified custody arrangement. Parents would be wise to consult an attorney for advice before a change of residence involving any significant distance.

3. How do I stop the other parent from moving away with my child?

During an initial divorce, legal separation, or child custody case, there is an automatic rule that goes into effect preventing either parent from taking a child out of state unless they either have written permission from the other parent or an order from the court. This applies to out of state vacations as well as moving.

For cases in which a parenting plan order is already in place, if one parent does not consent to the child’s relocation, that parent should ask the court to schedule a relocation hearing. Colorado law requires these hearings to receive priority on the court docket. During the hearing, the court will consider whether it is in the child’s best interests to modify the existing arrangements for parenting time. Essentially, the court cannot stop the parent from leaving, but the court could specify that the child should remain behind in the custody of the other parent.

If a parent removes a child without permission, it may be possible to file an emergency motion under child abduction statutes to have the child returned until the case is heard by the court.

4. What do Denver courts consider in a relocation case?

When deciding whether a modification of parenting time is in the child’s best interests in a relocation situation, Denver courts consider a number of factors set forth under various statutes, as well as any other elements they deem to be relevant. Some of these factors include:

  • The quality and history of each parent’s relationship with the child
  • Educational opportunities at the current location and the proposed new location
  • Extended family near the current location and the proposed new location
  • The impact the move is anticipated to have on the child
  • The reasons why a parent wishes to relocate with the child
  • The reasons the other parent objects to relocation

Additionally, the courts also consider all the factors relevant to an initial custody determination, such as the “ability of each party to place the needs of the child ahead of his or her own needs.” Of course, if one parent has a history of domestic violence or if the child’s existing environment could be harmful to the child’s health or emotional development, these factors also weigh heavily on the court’s determination.

5. How does the timing of relocation affect the situation?

The timing of a proposed relocation is crucial to the outcome. While a custody or divorce case remains pending, before a decree has been issued, neither parent is allowed to move the child out of the state without permission from the court. If one parent wants to relocate and make the child’s location part of the final divorce or custody order, that parent must ensure that both the court and the other parent are aware that the relocation issue is part of the proceedings. Very rarely, if ever, will a court allow a parent to move out of state with a child before a permanent hearing is held.

The court uses a different standard to evaluate the situation when relocation is requested before a final decision has been reached regarding parenting and decision-making authority. An experienced family law attorney could recommend a strategy for timing a removal request.

Relocation Law Aims to Avoid Presumptions

In general, courts have ruled that there are no presumptions in favor of either parent in a relocation dispute. The parent seeking to relocate does not bear the burden of proving that it is in the child’s best interests to move. At the same time, the parent objecting to relocation does not have the burden of proving it is in the child’s best interests to change custody and keep the child near the former location.

There is not even a presumption that it is in the child’s best interests for the parents to continue living within close proximity of each other. (This would place the burden of proof on the shoulders of the party requesting the relocation.) However, this means that both parents need to work hard to demonstrate that their desired outcome is the one that best serves the child’s interests.

A Dedicated Colorado Relocation Attorney Could Help

After any divorce, uncontested divorce or legal separation involving children, either parent may seek modifications to the child custody or visitation arrangements, especially if one parent plans to move to a location that is beyond the distance accounted for in the current agreement. If a case involves fathers’ rights or grandparents’ rights in a relocation situation, the dedicated family law attorneys at Jones Law Firm, PC have the knowledge and skill to help clients understand their rights and fight to achieve their goals.

Contact Jones Law Firm, PC today to learn how we could help with your relocation case.

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Our team includes attorneys licensed to practice in multiple states including April D. Jones in California, Patrick G. Barkman in Texas, the Cherokee Nation, the Northern District of Texas, and the District of Colorado (United States Court of Appeals 10th and 5th Circuit), and Stuart Wallace in Illinois.