A common modification to a custody agreement occurs when one of the parents wants to—or has to – move away from where the one parent has physical custody. When a parent petitions to move away with a minor child, there are several factors the court will observe to help determine how to handle the question. One significant factor is the child’s relationships. The court will observe:
- The child’s relationship with their parents
- The child’s relationship with their siblings
- The child’s relationship with peers
The court will be most interested in the child’s relationship with their parents and how the move will affect those relationships. Each parent may believe they are better suited to be the custodial parent and may often argue that their child dislikes the other parent. The court will look for some consistency between what the child is saying and what the parents are saying. This means custodial evaluators, psychological evaluations, and substantial fact-finding to make a determination on the issue.
Generally, courts do not want to separate siblings and the law supports the stance. The court will want to examine the relationship between siblings to see if there will be a detriment in separating them, but there is a presumption that separation would be a detriment. Therefore, the parent who wants to separate the siblings will have a significant hurdle to get over to show that the separation will be in their best interests.
There are other complications to sibling relationships that can affect the court’s decisions on move aways. If there is a disabled child involved, one parent may be better suited to take care of that child. However, the court will still not want to separate the siblings. If there are siblings who have a strong preference for one parent, the court may see this as a problem created by the parents and still choose to keep the siblings together.
Some parents may use a child’s peer relationships to block a move. For example, a child may not want to leave a school friend or an older child may want to continue attending the high school they’ve grown accustomed to. The court does not give peer relationships as much weight as family relationships. However, the court does consider the impact of removing a child from their established social circles.