Child Custody and Interstate Relocation
Baldwin v. Baldwin, unpublished (2021).
After separation and divorce, it is not unheard of for one spouse to move out of state. If the former couple had minor children together, then the question is which spouse is primarily going to have custody of the children? Many factors may come into play when making the determination, such as improvement to quality of life. These are complicated cases, and the parent seeking custody needs to demonstrate that relocating the children to another state best serves the development and growth of the children.
- Facts: Plaintiff Father and Defendant Mother were parents to a minor child that resided in Charlotte. Defendant eventually requested a job transfer to a location in Georgia. That request was granted, and she took the minor child to Georgia with her. Plaintiff then filed for custody once he discovered what happened. At trial, the Judge granted Plaintiff primary custody. Defendant appealed.
- Issue: Did the trial court err in granting custody to Plaintiff based on the evidence?
- Rationale: A trial court is required to consider factors that relate to the best interests of the children. The trial court made a finding that there were no distinct advantages in relocating the child to Georgia—the move would not improve the quality of life for the child. Defendant contested that the trial court erred in making this finding when she testified that her job has a set schedule allowing for daily pickup from school, that the child has her own room, that she volunteers at the school, and that she helps with homework, gives snacks, etc. Plaintiff also testified to similar conditions. So, without any significant improvement to life, there was no reason the court would have granted relocation. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision. The trial court also found that Defendant’s motive in moving was suspicious, as she did not inform Plaintiff of the move until after it happened.
- Lessons and Observations:
- If relocation with minor children is in your future as part of your separation and divorce, you need to provide every single fact as to why it benefits the children more to relocate to a new state versus staying in North Carolina, or vice versa if you are contesting relocation. Also important is the motive in the move. The Court needs to make a decision based on the competent evidence. Contact an experienced family law specialist if relocation is at issue in your case.