Before even deciding whether to move out of state (or country) with your children when you and the other parent live in the same state but are no longer together (romantically speaking), you need to think about how this will affect the kid(s). Experts agree the best thing for youngsters is to have mom and dad living as close together geographically as possible so they can have what the courts here call "frequent and continuing contact" with both parents. For obvious reasons, living on opposite ends of the continent, halfway across the country or even in adjoining states will unavoidably decrease the frequency part of that definition. If the move were allowed, longer but less frequent visits with each parent would become the norm; say, spending the school year with mom and school breaks with dad. Ideal? Nope. Doable? Yes. And sometimes, especially where quality of life would be dramatically enhanced for the family by a move (see A.R.S. 25-408(H)(3)), perhaps the lesser of two evils.
OK. I've thought things through, and I've made up my mind to move. Can I?
First of all, have you truly thought through all of the possible impacts and logistics of a proposed move? Where exactly would you live? Where would the child(ren) attend school? What kinds of academic and/or extracurricular activities would be available? What if the child(ren) has special needs or interests? What if they already know what they want to be when they grow up and thus need to take certain classes or get specific volunteer opportunities in a certain field? Perhaps most important, how do you plan to ensure that the parent who is left behind still gets "meaningful" time with the kid(s) as the court requires? Will you travel with them on a plane if they are too young to fly alone? Will you drive them in a car overnight to maximize their quality time with the other parent? Can you afford to take off that much work or pay that amount of travel expenses on a regular basis? Suddenly custody sharing and parenting-time exchanges are not as easy or straightforward as they have been.
OK. I really, really have thought through everything, and I'm planning on moving. What do I do now?
Not so fast. The law, at least in Arizona, requires that you give at least sixty (60) days' written notice to the other parent of your plans to relocate, even if it is in-state but more than 100 miles away from where you are at now. (NOTE: That may be changing soon to out-of-state only.) I would suggest a computer-generated typed letter that is dated and signed by you in front of a notary public then mailed to them certified-return receipt-restricted delivery (that last part only if anyone currently is living in their household with them). If they object, within thirty (30) days of receiving notice, they may ask the family court for a hearing to address the proposed move (a matter of right). After that month has elapsed, they can only get a hearing on a showing of good cause (that means, if they convince the judge that there was a valid reason for their delay in requesting the hearing).
What if I don't have 60 days?
Even if you have less than 60 days before you "have" to move, and even if there is not enough time to get a court hearing, do the letter anyway. This puts you in the best possible position to prove you gave notice to the opposing party (other parent) of your plans. Still, this may be a situation where you will likely ask for "forgiveness" rather than getting "permission." You may be allowed to move without a court's blessing, at least temporarily, if it is considered an "emergency" or "unavoidable" situation: "A parent with sole custody or a parent with joint custody and primary physical custody who is required by circumstances of health or safety or employment of that parent or that parent's spouse to relocate in less than sixty days after written notice has been given to the other parent may temporarily relocate with the child." A.R.S. 25-408(F)(1). If the custody is 50-50, a temporary move may be a possibility if a written agreement is signed by both parents. A.R.S. 25-408(F)(2).
So...in the final analysis, will I be allowed to move with the kids?
It depends on how the hearing goes and how much time you have. However, don't expect the go-ahead simply because you have a fantastic job offer waiting or relatives promising you and the kids a place to stay, or whatever other particulars you may have nailed down. As crazy as it sounds in this modern-day, extremely mobile, individual freedom-oriented world (particularly in the "First World," which includes highly industrialized countries like the United States), you may actually be prevented from moving at all. At least at that particular point in time. However, pay close attention to what the judge says, because if you tweak your plans in such a way that it would enhance parenting time for the other parent or at least minimize the disruption, trauma and negative effects of a proposed move, you may be allowed to do so at a future date. Please read the attached section of the state code carefully and in its entirety because it is essentially your bible. Best of luck to you and yours!
This legal guide should not be construed as formal legal advice or the formation of a lawyer/client relationship.
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