Tuesday, the Western District of the Missouri Court of Appeals issued an opinion, Allen v. Gatewood, which addresses an important aspect of the Missouri relocation statute.
The General Assembly enacted the relocation statute to accomplish two goals: (a) to assure the nonrelocating parent timely receives all necessary information regarding a proposed relocation, and (b) to facilitate a timely resolution of disagreements between parents regarding a proposed relocation. A key component of this framework involves strict compliance with notice and the window of time to file a motion to prevent relocation. A relocating parent must provide to the nonrelocating parent written notice by certified mail at least sixty days in advance of the proposed relocation, and that notice must contain the specific address of the new residence, the new home telephone number, the date of the intended relocation, the reasons for the relocation, and a proposed revision to the custody schedule. Our courts have held that failure to strictly comply with the notice provision will void a relocation. So, for example, if parent A simply relocates without any notice, parent B may motion the court (usually through contempt) to order parent A return to her previous residence. Our courts have also held that failure to file a motion to prevent relocation within the required thirty day period will result in allowing the relocating parent complete freedom to relocate
In Allen, mother provided written notice by certified mail of her proposed relocation, including a specific address. Father went to look at the new residence to determine its fitness, only to find no such address existed. Eventually, after several attempts, father determined the correct address, which was in the vicinity. However, rather than contain a large home as described in the notice, it consisted of undeveloped land and a trailer. By the time Father filed his motion to prevent relocation, thirty-two days had passed since he received the certified letter – but only two days had passed since he learned of the correct address.
Mother moved to dismiss the motion to prevent relocation because of the thirty-day time frame. Father filed a motion for contempt, arguing that mother hid the knowledge of the correct address because of its inadequacy, and that he filed his motion to prevent relocation only two days after learning of the correct address of the actual residence. The Western District sided with father – because the certified letter did not accurately inform father of the proposed new residence for the children, mother failed to comply with the notice provisions.
The strict enforcement of the notice and time requirements has been the source of frustration and litigation, and thoughtful commentators have made solid arguments both in favor of strict compliance and also a more relaxed standard. After Allen, the state of the law remains one of strict compliance with a caveat – the clock does not run for the nonrelocating parent to file a motion to prevent relocation until that parent receives full statutory notice, which includes accurate and complete information on the proposed new residence.
Relocation involves many other complex legal issues, and we recommend parents facing relocation consult an experienced attorney as soon as possible. All judgments relating to custody contain the language of the relocation statute and we recommend parents on both sides of the relocation fully and strictly comply with the statute – failure to do so, as Allen demonstrates, can have severe consequences.
At the Marks Law Firm, LLC, we have helped many clients through the confusion of relocation. If you have a relocation issue, contact us – we can help.