Fox Family Lawyers
Cynthia Moseley Fox
Attorney at Law
7751 Carondelet Avenue,
Suite 700
Clayton, Missouri 63105
(St. Louis)

If You Move, Can You Take Your Child With You?

One important but often unanticipated consequence of divorce is that the parent that has primary physical custody of the children may not be allowed to relocate after the divorce, be it across town or across the country. If that parent shares custody with their former spouse, then the unfettered right to move will likely depend on the other parent’s permission.


According to Missouri law, any proposed change in the principal residence of a child of more than 90 days must be preceded by notice to “any party with custody or visitation rights” at least 60 days in advance of the proposed move. The notice must include the date of the move, the new address and telephone number, the reason for the move, and a proposal for a revised visitation and custody schedule, if applicable. If the other parent does not object within 30 days, then the relocation may take place.


Obviously, the rub occurs when the other parent objects. In the best of circumstances, the two parents will put their heads together and agree on a modified custody and visitation schedule and parenting plan that provides both parents with the same degree of “frequent, continuing and meaningful contact” with the child as before and which is demonstrably in the best interests of the child involved. This new plan would be submitted to the court and likely approved.


If the parents are unable to agree, then the dispute is taken to court, where the outcomes for the parents seeking to move have not been very encouraging. Historically, courts have been reluctant to allow a custodial parent to relocate the children, even to the other side of town, if it significantly reduces the time the non-moving parent will have with the children.


When the courts have been amenable, it has been when the non-moving parent has not been particularly involved or close their child, and the move was also shown to be in the best interests of the child, such as moving to a better school district, or to an area where hard-to-come-by services needed by the child can be accessed. In addition, the courts have supported relocations made for the betterment of the parent, such a relocating to a better paying job, or to an area where the parent has an existing network of family and friends. To be approved, the move still cannot be contrary to the child’s best interest nor can it significantly reduce the time the other parent has with the child.


Given the court’s predilections, relocations to a faraway place face a decidedly uphill climb if the other parent hasn’t consented. In recent cases, the Missouri Court of Appeals have blocked relocations from Missouri to Texas and Ohio even though the parent requesting the move would earn substantially more in their new location and offer, arguably, a better quality of life for the child.


Interestingly, some divorce litigants will rent temporary housing in an area with an excellent school district while the divorce is pending for leverage in the custody dispute with their mate, only to have it work against them after the divorce when they want to move to permanent housing in a less pricey area with lower quality schools.


Finally, the court’s reluctance to approve the relocation of one parent over the objection of the other should send a cautionary tale to prospective stepparents. When marrying someone with minor children at home, your freedom to accept a promotion or better job in another area will likely be significantly impaired if the other parents objects. Since no mom or dad can be reasonably expected to leave his or her children behind to follow you, it is likely you’re going to be staying put for a while.