California Child Custody & Parental Relocation

In past decades, custodial parents were generally permitted to legally move out of state with their child, no questions asked. Now, state and federal laws exist to emphasize equal rights in parenting and best interests of the child.

The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, created in 1997, is the most relevant and comprehensive law that prevents “seize-and-run” situations. The UCCJEA compiles a set of rules regarding child custody and visitation. Prior to UCCJEA, a parent could take their child to another state and get granted sole custody, and then the original state would have to abide by the ruling. This changed after UCCJEA passed. Before making a custody determination in any interstate case the court must have jurisdiction over the parties by giving notice to the other parent in the form of a "notice to appear" or a "summons." The UCCJEA vests “exclusive and continuing jurisdiction” for child custody litigation in the courts of the child's home state. The state of California cannot modify a custody order that is already in place that was issued by another state.

California law requires the custodial parent to file a “move-away petition” if they are planning on residing outside of the state. A 2004 ruling in the case of Marriage of LaMusga determined that a non-custodial parent can request a change in custody if the custodial parent's move poses a detriment to the child. No law in California prevents a noncustodial parent or parent who has joint custody from moving out of state. If parents do share joint custody of a child who spends a significant amount of time with each parent, a court may attempt to decide which parent and location will be in the best interests of the child, and decide custody accordingly.

The court will consider four distinct, important factors before granting a custody relocation petition in California. First, they will look at the age of the child and their current relationship with each parent. Next, the court will consider the reason for the move and how it would hurt or benefit the child. The court will then determine the impact of the move on the non-custodial parent's access to the child. Finally, it will consider how the move will affect the emotional stability of the child and whether they will be negatively impacted by having to make new friends and attend a different school.

If you are the custodial parent of your child, or share joint custody with another parent and are considering relocating out of state with your child, you are urged to consult with a divorce or family law attorney to ensure that you will be capable of doing so.