Court Weighs Father’s Objection to Mother’s Request to Move Children Out of State

usa-maps-1055633-m.jpgChild custody disputes have the potential to elicit the most intense emotions on behalf of all the parties involved, including the children. When parents cannot agree on issues surrounding physical and legal custody, the courts must make the decision for them. In far too many cases, one or both parties may be dissatisfied with the ultimate arrangement. Add to this problematic situation, a request by the parent with physical custody to move the children out of state. Parents confronting child custody issues are strongly encouraged to reach out to an experienced San Diego family law attorney who can help to protect their rights while looking out for the best interests of the children.

In a recent California custody case, the father opposed the mother’s request to relocate the children to Louisiana. The parents had never married but lived together for a number of years. They had three children together. In the fall of 2012, the court rendered an order granting the parents joint legal custody and the mother sole physical custody. The father was permitted certain visitation rights under the order. For purposes of clarification, under California law, the parent with legal custody is authorized to make important decisions for the children, such as health care, education, and welfare. The parent with physical custody is the person with whom the children live. Both of these forms of custody may be either joint or sole, depending on the circumstances.

Here, the mother’s new husband was offered a job out of state and soon thereafter, she filed a request with the court to relocate the children to Louisiana. Not only did the father oppose the relocation request, but he also sought a modification of the custody order to award him sole physical and legal custody. The trial court denied his petition to restrain the relocation and modify the custody arrangement. He was granted visitation and daily teleconferencing with the children. The father appealed.

Under the California Family Code, a parent who has been granted sole physical custody of a child – through a final judicial custody order – has the “presumptive right to move away with the child.” A court has the authority to restrain a custodial parent’s relocation of a child if it would prejudice the rights or welfare of the child. In order to modify the custody order, the father would have to show that the proposed relocation would cause detriment to the child. The court of appeals found that the lower court did not abuse its discretion in finding that the proposed relocation of the children will not cause detriment to them and was in their best interest.

The court did acknowledge that the father had a close relationship with his children and that the oldest child wanted to live with him. The court, however, concluded that the three children should stay together as a family noting that, “the stability and the continuity of [Mother] continuing to have custody of these kids is important. While this is an unpublished decision, one which may not relied on or cited to by parties in future cases, the court’s rationale could very well serve to inform later decisions. As we can see from this decision, child custody cases can be complicated and difficult to navigate, due to the intense emotions and strong interests of the parties.

If you are a parent with questions about child custody matters, you are encouraged to contact Doppelt & Forney. Mr. Doppelt is an experienced family law attorney and has been representing parents involved in child custody disputes for more than 20 years. Doppelt & Forney serves clients throughout Southern California, including San Diego, Encinitas, La Jolla, and Chula Vista. For a free consultation, contact Doppelt & Forney through our website, or give us a call toll-free at (800) ROY IS IT (769-4748).

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