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How does a judge decide where a child lives when parents move?

Co-parenting in Virginia typically requires patience as a family adjusts to their new arrangements. Adults also need to be willing to compromise, as they may sometimes need to rework the schedule or make choices about their children’s upbringing.

The actions of one parent can have a direct negative impact on the relationship that the other has with the children. For example, one parent deciding to relocate could forever alter family dynamics. Whether someone intends to move to the other side of the state or to leave Virginia to live in Ohio after getting a job offer, that decision can have profound implications for shared custody arrangements.

Parents may not agree on how to handle a relocation scenario and what custody modifications are necessary. How does a Virginia family law judge respond to contested relocation cases?

The focus should always be on what is best for the children

Virginia state law is very clear about what a judge must consider when making custody determinations. The main factor that guides their decisions is the best interest of the children in the family. There is often a presumption that preserving both parental relationships is usually in the best interest of the children.

Parents generally need to provide each other and the courts with advance notice before they actually move. If the parents do not agree, then the matter goes to court. A judge hearing a contested relocation case might look at the current custody arrangements, the distance between the households and the role each parent plays in the lives of the children when determining whether they can move away or not.

The judge could modify the custody arrangements so that the parent remaining in Virginia has more time with the children during school breaks. They may also decide that the children could be best served by remaining in Virginia. Threats about interfering in a parent-child relationship and other attempts at alienation could affect how a judge rules.

While a judge cannot prevent a parent from moving out of Virginia to pursue a romantic relationship or a job opportunity, they do not have to grant permission to allow the children to move. It is therefore crucial that people approach relocation hearings with the right perspective. Parents typically want to show that the move could benefit the children and that they have factored the children’s needs into their decisions.

Understanding what influences custody modification requests, including relocation proposals, may benefit those sharing custody in Virginia. Parents who understand how judges rule on contested custody matters can use that information to prepare for court.

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