For the past couple of years, a combination of factors has worked to make our society increasingly mobile, including lingering concerns about the pandemic, a desire to escape higher living costs, and the availability of more remote working opportunities. In the first few months of 2021 alone, more than one in 10 Americans relocated, either temporarily or permanently. St. Louis-based United Van Lines’ 2021 National Movers Study shows 2,278 households left Missouri last year. Odds are a number of those moves involved divorced parents relocating with their children, a situation that can only legally happen after written notice is provided to the other parent, who then has an opportunity to file a motion objecting to the move, according to state law.
Before Children Can Be Relocated
Missouri’s governing 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.” (Mo. Rev. Stat. § 452.377(1) (2000). Unless the court determines notice is not required due to special circumstances (such as the safety of either the relocating parent or child), written notice of the planned move must be delivered to any other party entitled to custody or visitation, via certified mail, return receipt requested, at least 60 days in advance.
The notice must contain the following information: the planned city of residence, including the specific address and home telephone number, if known; the date of the planned move; a brief statement of the specific reasons for the move, and a proposed revised custody or visitation schedule. The document also must contain notice to the other parent that he or she has the right to file a motion objecting to the relocation within 30 days, accompanied by an affidavit “setting forth the good-faith factual basis” for the objection. § 452.377(2)
Because specific language ordering the above notice is now required to be included in every court order establishing custody or visitation, no parent who is planning to relocate can claim ignorance of the obligation. § 452.377(12) The law also takes the notice obligation very seriously: Courts can consider failure to give notice as a basis to modify custody and visitation, to order the immediate return of the child and to assess court costs and attorney’s fees against the relocating parent. § 452.377(6) However, the notice requirement does not apply when a parent moves with a child before a court makes an initial custody determination.
Burden on the Relocating Parent
A parent who wants to relocate with his or her child or children has the legal burden “to prove the proposed move is made in good faith and is in the best interest of the child.” § 452.377(6) Missouri courts have tended to take a fairly broad view of what constitutes a parent’s “good-faith” motive to relocate with a child – basically anything other than an intent to disrupt or limit visitation with the other parent. However, the Missouri Supreme Court also has found that reduced frequency of custody or visitation is not an automatic bar to relocation, as long as the move is otherwise in the child’s best interest.
If the court permits the relocation, the judge is required by law to order “custody or visitation and telephone access sufficient to assure that the child has frequent, continuing and meaningful contact” with the other parent. The judge also is required to allocate transportation expenses between the parents and adjust child support, if appropriate. § 452.377(6)
Filing an Objection to Relocation
While notice of relocation must be given to all parties entitled to custody or visitation with the child, which may include a grandparent or other family member, only the other parent can file a motion objecting to the relocation. As mentioned, the objection must be filed within 30 days of receiving the notice and must be accompanied by an affidavit stating a good-faith factual basis for the objection. Once an objection is filed, the relocating parent has 14 days to file a response, including a counter-affidavit and proposed revised parenting plan. § 452.377(8) The court then schedules a hearing where both sides are heard before an order is issued either permitting or denying the relocation.
Communication Is Key
As with every issue between parents involving the care and custody of their children, a willingness to communicate and reach an agreement in advance regarding a proposed relocation can save time and money, as well as stress on all parties involved. Missouri law allows parents to avoid a hearing by agreeing to a revised parenting plan, custody, and visitation schedule, which is then submitted for court approval, along with an affidavit signed by all parties. § 452.377(7)
If you are a custodial parent planning to relocate with your children, we can help you prepare and deliver the required notice and negotiate a revised custody, visitation, and parenting plan with the other parent.
If you have received a notice of relocation and have concerns that the proposed move will not be in your child’s best interest, let us help you evaluate those issues to determine whether you have a valid legal objection or whether we can mediate a revised parenting and custody plan that will address your concerns.
Contact us today for a free consultation.