How Far Is Too Far to Relocate After Divorce?

a little boy hugging his father to stay

Once your divorce becomes final, you may have a desire to move away and make a fresh start. But relocating after divorce, especially relocating with a child after divorce, can be complicated.

Life after a divorce is directed in many ways by your divorce agreement. It stands as a legal order. A family law judge will require specific reasons to alter the contents of the court order. If you want to live somewhere that disrupts the custody sharing or the child visitation schedule you have agreed to, then you may not be allowed to move.

We suggest contacting a divorce attorney from Charles Ullman and Associates in Raleigh, N.C., to discuss your plans to move and the legal requirements of your divorce decree. We can discuss what is allowed and how to make your plans a reality.

Child Custody Orders and Plans to Relocate

In most North Carolina divorces, one of the parents will assume physical custody of the couple’s child. The other parent will receive visitation rights. One parent may assume sole legal custody or the parents may have joint legal custody. Regardless, the agreement that is worked out between the parents or decided by a judge becomes part of the final divorce order.

No child custody arrangement is permanent. Child custody is always subject to being modified.

If you have a reason to relocate with your child, you may do so if it does not require a change to your child custody agreement or if you can get your spouse or a judge to agree to it. But if by moving you make it impossible to adhere to visitation rules set down in your child custody order – typically, you are moving too far away for allowed weekly or monthly visits to remain practical – your spouse may object and block the move.

divorce relocation

Your separation agreement or child custody order may state what you are allowed to do. Custody orders are often written with specific geographic limits, such as not allowing the custodial parent to move the child out of state or more than a certain number of miles away.

If you move out of state without the consent of the court or your ex-spouse, your ex-spouse could potentially obtain an emergency custody order resulting in your child being forcibly returned to North Carolina. You could also be charged with contempt of court and ordered to pay a fine, as well as court costs and attorneys’ fees.

Preparing for a Relocation Hearing

Under North Carolina law, a judge won’t modify a custody order unless:

  • There has been a substantial change in circumstances affecting the child’s well-being, and
  • A change in the custody order would serve the child’s best interests.

It is always best if you and your ex-spouse are in agreement when you appear before a judge to request changes in a child custody order.

If you are the parent with physical custody of the child, you are already considered the parent best able to meet the daily needs of the child, including deciding where the child should live. If the custodial parent decides to move with the child, the burden is on the noncustodial parent to prove that the move is a substantial change of circumstances and that it is harmful to the child.

Once either of you files a motion with the court, a judge will review it and schedule a hearing to hear additional evidence regarding the relocation and reasons for modifying the custody order.

In addition to your testimony, you may prepare for the court to hear from others who know your child and his or her needs, such as close relatives, teachers, coaches, and counselors.

Divorce in family with children. Dad left the family and left mom with child

If you are seeking to relocate with your child and have your custody order modified, you should be prepared to present a clear parenting plan that shows commitment to maintaining a proper relationship between your children and their other parent.

If your ex-spouse objects to the move, the judge will also hear testimony from him or her as to why the move will be detrimental to your child’s well-being.

The judge will make a determination based on such factors as:

  • The parent’s reasons for moving
  • Whether the move was planned in good faith
  • Advantages offered by the relocation, including quality of life and educational opportunities
  • How the relocation may interfere with the noncustodial parent’s visitation
  • Whether a realistic visitation schedule can be established for the noncustodial parent
  • The likelihood that the custodial parent will comply with new visitation orders
  • How well the child is adjusted to their current home and community
  • Any other factor the court deems relevant.

How Far Is Too Far for Your Ex-Spouse?

The judge will assume that it is good for your child to see their other parent on a regular basis unless you can establish otherwise. The hearing will focus on whether a regular visitation schedule is feasible.

If you are planning to move far enough away that visits would require overnight stays, consider whether your ex-spouse can argue that he or she cannot afford the expense or the time away from work that overnight visits would entail. The farther you plan to move, the more the expenses of travel and other burdens on your ex will make it difficult to establish a realistic visitation schedule.

Get Help from Our Child Custody Lawyers

To help you have a child custody order modified to accommodate a move with your child, the child custody lawyers of Charles R. Ullman & Associates in Raleigh, N.C., will try to negotiate child custody arrangements that meet the needs of both parents and their child or children.

Each case is different, and we would have to confer with you and review the particulars of your situation before offering a potential strategy specifically for assisting you. We ask that you call us at (919) 829-1006 or use our online contact form to set up a confidential consultation with one of our experienced and compassionate attorneys today.


Charles Ullman & Associates provides you respected, experienced and knowledgeable divorce and family law attorneys. You can trust us to help you through the legal process efficiently and effectively so you can transition to the next phase of your life. Our community involvement reaches beyond charitable support of important causes. We launched our own movement in Fraternities4Family and provide scholarships to able students in need.