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Relocating to Another State & Custody Laws in Virginia (Part 1 of 2)

When parents are separated but share custody, they must work together to facilitate the custodial transfer of their children. This process can become more challenging if the primary custodial parent decides to move further away.

What Does Relocation Involve?

Per VA. Code Ann. §20-124.5, every order involving child custody must include specific provisions about parental relocation. If a party wishes to relocate, they must provide 30 days’ notice to both their co-parent and the court. In other words, the relocating party needs to ask permission from the court before moving to their new home. This process often necessitates a hearing on the issue.

Virginia courts have repeatedly addressed the issue of relocation, as it is not uncommon for parents to seek better job opportunities or desire proximity to extended family in another state. But how do Virginia judges decide whether to grant or deny a relocation request?

In Virginia, a court can only grant a relocation request upon finding that the relocation would be in the best interests of the child. The following circumstances may support a finding that relocation is in a child’s best interests:

  • When the non-custodial parent is not active in the child’s life;
  • When the non-custodial parent is active in the child’s life, but a relationship with the non-custodial parents can still be substantially maintained/would not be substantially impaired by the relocation;
  • When it is likely the custodial parent’s economic situation would improve upon relocation;
  • When the custodial parent is married to a member of the active military and the move is related to that occupation;
  • When extended family is present in the other state;
  • When additional facts are presented indicating the child would be better off in the other state.

Additionally, Virginia courts may find the following circumstances oppose a finding that relocation would be in a child’s best interest:

  • When the relocation would cause a previously active or healthy relationship with the non-custodial parent to deteriorate;
  • When the child is developing well in the current state, such as when a child has a local network of close friends, participates in local extracurricular activities or sports, or is doing well at the local school;
  • When the party seeking relocation does not have a specific plan in place to facilitate the child’s needs in the other state;
  • When the benefits of relocation have not been adequately or convincingly demonstrated, as the party seeking relocation has the burden of proving that the benefits would outweigh the potential harm to the child.

The court has the ultimate discretion to consider any of these circumstances when making the final decision regarding relocation. Any party involved in a relocation case should strongly consider hiring an attorney to present the facts of their case in a persuasive manner.

Likewise, fighting a relocation case can require a thorough evaluation of the facts and applicable factors set forth under Virginia Law. It’s critical that you retain the services of a qualified and experienced attorney before the hearing.

Are you dealing with child custody issues? The Fairfax family law attorneys at Keithley Law, PLLC, PLLC have the necessary experience to help you secure a positive case outcome. Contact us today at (703) 454-5147 to schedule a consultation.