You had a lot of freedom before you got married. If you wanted to move to California, you could do it. If you just wanted a change of scenery in Illinois, you could move across the state. If you wanted to see the world, you could hop on the next flight to London or Sydney or Beijing.
Then you got married. You had two kids. Your spouse filed for divorce.
You may feel like you're single again and that your freedom is finally back. If you have joint custody of those children, though, that may not be true. You can't just move whenever you want. A court has to approve a parental relocation.
You both have rights
The reasoning here is that you both have a right to see those children. If you pack your bags and take them to Los Angeles, your ex can't realistically see them anymore. The custody schedule will never work. As such, you have violated the court order and your ex's rights. That's a serious offense that could lead to your being stripped of all parental rights in the future.
Why is a move permitted?
That is not to say that you have to stay in the same house until the kids go off to college. But the move has to make sense for the whole family, not just you.
For instance, short moves are often permitted. Your lease runs out and you look for cheaper housing across town. Your ex can still see the kids just as easily, so the court allows you to move.
The biggest thing that the court looks at is the realistic impact on the children. Some moves do benefit children, and their interests come first. For instance, the move may:
- Allow you to take a job with a higher salary, thereby improving your quality of life and the child's.
- Put you and the child near the rest of your family, so that grandparents and others can help you raise the child.
- Improve the child's life by giving you a better housing situation. For instance, if you live in a high-rent area where $2,000 gets you a one-bedroom apartment, moving to an area where $2,000 gets you an entire home can make the children more comfortable.
Another thing the court considers, if the children are old enough, is what they really want.
In some cases, this may make the move impossible. For instance, the child may strongly prefer to stay in the same school district. Your ex may also prefer that. If it appears that you do not have a good reason to move -- that it's just arbitrary -- then you may not get approved.
Understanding the process
The most important thing to take away from this is that you do not have complete freedom, even after divorce. Make sure you understand the process and what steps you have to take.