How To Win a Relocation Custody Case?

Updated February 20, 2024
8 min read
How To Win a Relocation Custody Case?

The staggering volume of Americans who move and relocate each year is remarkable. Data from the American Community Survey (ACS) reveals that between 2015 and 2020, over 40 million Americans relocated annually. Intriguingly, Census data exposes that an estimated one-quarter of these relocating Americans are mothers who have custody of their children and are moving within four years of a divorce. 

When these relocations involve a parent transporting their children, custody disputes are common. Such instances are officially termed relocation custody cases. Between 1996 and 2006, the frequency of relocation custody cases noticeably spiked on trial and appellate court dockets as parents aimed to move their children along with them.

How Can You Equip Yourself for a Successful Relocation Case?

To properly gear up for a successful relocation custody case, it's indispensable that attorneys are proficient in the specific state and federal statutes governing relocation custody and the procedural steps required. Equally important is for lawyers to comprehend and acknowledge the rationale behind these laws, which is to serve and protect the child's best interest ultimately. Lawyers should also strive to familiarize themselves with recent trends that detail how judges typically rule on relocation custody cases.

Understanding the Fundamental Rights in Relocation Custody Cases

It's crucial to realize that relocation cases typically implicate two significant fundamental rights judicially recognized by the Federal Supreme Court. Both of these rights are decisive in judicial decision-making concerning relocation custody cases. These basic rights entail:

  1. The fundamental right of parents to the care, custody, and control of their children. This right requires courts to apply the “best interest of the child” principle when determining custody between divorced parents or living separately.

  2. The fundamental right of US citizens to travel freely between states. This comprehensive right entails not only the freedom to travel but also the right to resettle in another state. It extends to the right to seek job opportunities and craft a new life elsewhere. Contrasting with the first right, this proper mandates courts to temper their decisions when removing custody from a relocating parent due to their mere choice to relocate, as this might infringe upon the parent’s right to travel.

Courts always strive to reconcile these two fundamental rights in a balancing act, ensuring a fair and just resolution for parents and, most importantly, the child involved.

Stakeholders in a Relocation Custody Case

Key stakeholders in a relocation custody case predominantly include the parents of the affected children. Typically, these custody cases involve parents who were formerly married but have since divorced. Often, the court would have previously awarded a custody order or decree in favor of one parent. In legal terminology, these parties are referred to as either:

  • The “custodial” or “residential” parent is the parent who has physical custody of the children and, thus, has the right for them to reside with them.

  • The ‘’non-custodial’’ or “non-residential” parent is the parent who does not possess physical custody privileges of the child and, therefore, does not have the right to live with the child.

While divided by custody, these stakeholders ultimately share a common interest: the welfare and best interest of the child at the heart of the case.

What Are the Odds of Winning a Relocation Case?

While laws governing parental relocation differ from state to state, there's a shared, strong emphasis on permitting the custodial parent the right to relocate with the children, given:

  1. The non-custodial parent is granted the right to parenting time and visitation arrangements with the child or children.

  2. The custodial parent has made the relocation decision in good faith, without malicious intentions.

These principles generally signify that the odds of winning a child relocation case favor the custodial parent. This bias arises from a presumption within these laws that the well-being and healthy development of the child hinge heavily on their continuous relationship with the primary caretaker, the custodial parent.

Most states presume that the original custody order should remain in effect to promote stability for the child.

Consequently, state laws are strict regarding modifying original custody decrees. For instance:

  • In Colorado, before altering the original custody in favor of the non-custodial parent, evidence has to be presented to show that the child's current environment under the custodial parent endangers their physical, mental, moral, or emotional well-being.

  • In California, case law decrees that the non-custodial parent carries the burden of showing that the planned move by the custodial parent will cause detriment to the child, prompting the court to reassess the existing custody order.

  • In Arizona, relocation statutes present a comprehensive list of factors that courts must consider when determining whether the non-custodial parent is entitled to custody.

While these standards may seem stringent, a common feature across state relocation laws is the conscious effort to prioritize the custodial parent-child relationship and to deliberately make it difficult for non-custodial parents to contest original custody decrees successfully.

  • Courts typically sympathize with a custodial parent moving due to a job transfer, promotion, or a better job opportunity elsewhere. However, they tend not to favor a custodial parent whose reason for relocation appears questionable or aimed at disrupting the non-custodial parent’s visitation rights unless there's proof of the non-custodial parent's abusive or violent behavior.

  • Courts generally approve relocation if it benefits the child educationally, emotionally, or economically. However, many courts have shifted custody to the non-custodial parent when supposed improvements in the new location don't outweigh the adverse impact of the relocation on the child.

  • Courts generally approve relocation if the custodial parent can demonstrate that they've deliberated and planned for visitation to minimize the adverse effects on the relationship between the child and the non-custodial parent.


To achieve a positive outcome in relocation custody cases, lawyers need to be knowledgeable in the statutory laws and case law. Lawyers handling such cases, whether representing the custodial or the non-custodial parent, need to be aware of court precedents and factors affecting court rulings.

In this regard, particularly for lawyers representing non-custodial parents, a holistic approach to relocation custody cases significantly improves the chance of a successful outcome.

Article by
Kateryna Adkham

Kateryna Adkham is a highly skilled and experienced content specialist at Lawrina. With her expertise and knowledge in content creation, Kateryna plays a crucial role in developing high-quality and engaging content for Lawrina.

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