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How do courts determine if relocation of a child to another state during a divorce is acceptable?

In situations where a custodial parent wishes to relocate with a child, the court will determine whether child custody relocation is in the best interests of the child. While a parent is free to relocate out of state themselves without the child or with the permission of the other parent to take the child, the state of Massachusetts requires a judge ruling regarding relocation contested by a parent.

  • Depending on the current custody agreement, the judge has two different processes for determining if relocation is in the child’s best interest. For joint or shared custody the judge will take into account the following:
  • Whether or not the quality of the child’s life will be improved and if the child will endure similar benefits as the parent from the move.
  • Adverse effects of altering visitation schedule and the extent to which the child’s relationship to the non-moving parent will be compromised.
  • How the child’s emotional, physical, or developmental needs will be impacted by moving or not moving.
  • If there is a way to create a new visitation order to allow the non-relocating parent to maintain a close and enduring bond with the child.

In the event a parent with primary custody is requesting relocation, the judge will apply what is known as the “real advantage” standard as the child’s well-being is more closely intertwined with the parent’s welfare in these situations. In this case, the judge will examine evidence of economic benefits, availability of extended family, and the desire to relocate with a new spouse. Additionally, the factors mentioned above will also be used to determine if the move is in the child’s best interest.

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