Relocation and Custody – Part One

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We live in a mobile society; people will move residences multiple times, and sometimes travel to another state or even another country. But relocation can have a devastating impact on the ability of children of parents who no longer live together to maintain frequent and meaningful contact with both parents. How does Missouri law approach relocation?

In Missouri, relocation is governed by a specific statute – Section 452.377 RSMo. First, the statute defines relocation as “a change in the principal residence of a child for a period of ninety days or more, but does not include a temporary absence from the principal residence.” Second, the statute requires any party under a court-ordered custody plan – whether through a divorce or paternity action – to provide a specific form of written notice to any party with custody or visitation rights.

The Missouri notice provision is very specific and must contain the following information:

  • The intended new residence, including the specific address and mailing address, if known, and if not known, the city;
  • The home telephone number of the new residence, if known;
  • The date of the intended move or proposed relocation;
  • A brief statement of the specific reasons for the proposed relocation of a child, if applicable; and
  • A proposal for a revised schedule of custody or visitation with the child, if applicable.

The notice must be given in writing by certified mail, return receipt requested, at least sixty days in advance of any proposed relocation.

A parent should not take the relocation provisions for granted nor should a parent simply assume relocation is a “given” and will be accepted by the other parent or the court. By statute, every custody judgment has the relocation requirements set forth in clear language, so no parent can claim lack of notice of the relocation law.

A parent who disregards the relocation notice requirements will not be able to relocate the residence of the child. So, for example, a parent who provides no notice or gives written notice lacking the required information or gives notice less than 60 days in advance will be deemed by the court to have provided deficient notice and would have to start the process anew. If, after giving deficient notice, the parent relocates with the child, a court will order the child returned to the previous address or to the custody of the other parent, and could even consider the improper relocation the basis to modify custody.

Often people relocate because of work requirements or remarriage, and when these people give insufficient notice and move with their new job or new spouse, they will have to return the child to the previous residence. If the noncompliant parent does not want to return with the child, that parent will have to leave the child with the nonrelocating parent until a court can address a new custody schedule under a proper relocation or modification.

Our courts take a rather strict view of compliance, believing the nonrelocating parent has an absolute right to the information about the relocation set out in the statute. For example, our courts have held that the new residence information gives the nonrelocating parent the opportunity to evaluate the proposed residence for fitness.

In our next post, we will discuss how a nonrelocating parent can object to relocation and the standard the courts use in deciding whether to approve a relocation.

If you have questions about relocation and custody, contact us – we can help.

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