Can a judge deny a request for relocation after a divorce involving a child?

family law judge in Raleigh

Negotiating child custody arrangements is often the most emotional part of a divorce. Typically, each parent wants as much time as possible with their children. They also want to have an active role and input about important decisions that affect their children’s lives. A proper child custody arrangement serves the child’s best interests while meeting both parents’ needs.

After a divorce, it is common for one or both former spouses to change residences. However, relocating becomes an issue for the children’s custodial parent when it creates conflicts with visitation agreements that are part of the divorce order. Any changes to the divorce decree must be approved by a family law judge. It’s not unusual for a court to deny a request to modify a custody agreement to accommodate a relocation.

If an impending relocation requires changes to your child custody orders, an experienced child custody attorney at Charles R. Ullman & Associates in Raleigh can work with you to craft changes to your parenting agreement that allow both parents to maintain a meaningful relationship with their children. Attorney Charles R. Ullman is a North Carolina State Bar-certified Family Law Specialist who has helped parents resolve child custody issues, including relocation issues and visitation rights. If necessary, a child custody lawyer can help you challenge a relocation or changes to your custody arrangements that are detrimental to your relationship with your children.

The child custody lawyers at Charles R. Ullman & Associates have the skill, experience, and compassion to assist you in any kind of relocation dispute. The law firm has a track record of helping families throughout Wake County. Call us today or use our online contact form to schedule a consultation with a custody modification attorney.

When and Why A Parent May Seek To Relocate With A Child

After a divorce, one of the parties to the divorce may seek to locate in another city or state to accept a new job, advance their career, obtain additional education, or live near a new romantic partner.

However, relocation can create legal issues if a minor child is involved, and the move makes it impossible for the other parent to be part of the child’s life and comply with the visitation arrangements in the court order.

The overriding factor a judge must weigh when considering a request to modify a child custody order is serving the child’s best interests. A child custody order protects the children and provides compulsory guidance to parents who disagree about where the child should live and who should be primarily responsible for their care.

When considering relocation following your divorce, you should review what your child custody agreement says about travel or relocation with your children. Custody orders are often written with specific geographic limits, such as not allowing one parent to move the child out of state or to a new location more than a certain number of miles away in the same city.

How will the proposed relocation affect the child’s life? You’ll still need to consider visitation schedules and the practicality of meeting them from your intended new home. The farther the moving parent plans to move, the more likely the court is to scrutinize carefully any relocation request after a divorce. A child custody lawyer can discuss with you how far is too far when considering a relocation.

Petitioning the Court To Allow a Relocation

To change a permanent custody order, a parent or guardian who is a party to the custody arrangement must file a Motion to Modify.

The motion must assert that:

  • There has been a substantial change in circumstances since the original custody order was entered, and
  • The impact of the change requires a change in the child custody order for it to continue to serve the child’s best interests.

The motion should also state the proposed changes to the child custody order.

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. If both parents agree to the modification, they can submit a consent order to the court. The judge should approve a relocation arrangement agreed to by both spouses, as long as the change is in the child’s best interest.

If one parent objects to the move, the judge will hear their testimony as to why the move is a substantial change of circumstances and is harmful to the child’s relationship with a parent. In addition to the custodial parent’s testimony, the court may also hear from others who know the child and their needs, such as close relatives, teachers, coaches, and counselors.

Court Evaluation of Relocation Cases

If, by moving, you will make it impossible to comply with your parenting plan and the visitation order, your ex-spouse may object, and the decision will be made by a family law court judge.

In a North Carolina law case known as Ramirez-Barker v. Barker, 107 NC App 71 (1992), in which a Chapel Hill mother’s plan to move with primary custody of her child to California was denied, the appeals court said that when “determining the child’s best interests in a relocation case, factors appropriately considered by the trial court include:

  • “The advantages of the relocation in terms of its capacity to improve the life of the child
  • “The motives of the custodial parent in seeking the move
  • “The likelihood that the custodial parent will comply with visitation orders when he or she is no longer subject to the jurisdiction of the courts of North Carolina
  • “The integrity of the noncustodial parent in resisting the relocation
  • “And the likelihood that a realistic visitation schedule can be arranged which will preserve and foster the parental relationship with the noncustodial parent.”

The appeals court upheld the trial court, which concluded that the mother did not show that it was in the best interest of the 11-year-old child “to be uprooted from the present situation in which she is blossoming.” If the mother moved during the school year, the court said, the father would assume primary custody, and the mother would adapt to the visitation schedule that had previously been applied to the father. However, the mother was allowed to move with the child upon the end of the school year, subject to 60 days written notice and allowing summer visitation with the father.

But the court also said: “We note that although it is not so as a matter of law, it will be a rare case where the child will not be adversely affected when a relocation of the custodial parent and child requires substantial alteration of a successful custody-visitation arrangement in which both parents have substantial contact with the child.”

Get Help from Our Child Custody Lawyers

If you need a child custody order modified to accommodate a move with your child after divorce, the Raleigh child custody lawyers at Charles R. Ullman & Associates in Raleigh, N.C., will try to negotiate a child custody agreement that serves the best interests of the child and meets your needs. If negotiating fails, we can provide family court representation for you in Wake County court.

Call us at (919) 829-1006 or use our online contact form to set up a confidential consultation with a compassionate child custody attorney 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.