When spouses divorce, they are generally free to take advantage of new opportunities. However, if you’re a parent, if you have physical custody of your child with your ex, and if you’re offered an opportunity to relocate, you’ll need the advice and guidance of a Rochester family law attorney.

Parents who are getting a divorce in this state should know that a child custody dispute may not be permanently resolved at the time the divorce is finalized. New York allows for child custody orders to be changed or modified – after a divorce is final – in a wide variety of circumstances.

In the Rochester area, if you have physical custody of your child and you are intending to relocate, but the other parent opposes your plan to relocate because the relocation may hurt his or her relationship with the child, you must request a modification of the child custody order that was issued by the court.

Legal Custody vs. Physical Custody

When parents divorce, child custody arrangements are determined during the divorce proceedings. Sole legal custody gives a parent the right to make decisions regarding a child’s education, healthcare, and religious training.

Divorced parents usually share joint legal custody, but when it comes to physical custody, the parent a child resides with and spends most of his or her time with is considered the custodial parent, while the non-custodial parent pays child support and has scheduled visitations with the child.

When May a Child Custody Arrangement Be Changed?

Over time, a variety of changing situations may require modifications to your court-ordered child custody arrangements. It is not unusual for a divorced parent to remarry or to accept a job offer that requires a relocation and a change in the child custody plan.

If a custodial parent’s prospective relocation will make the current visitation schedule difficult or impossible – or change the current arrangement in any way – the relocating parent must obtain a modification of the court-ordered child custody arrangement.

When Should Parents Contact a Family Law Attorney?

A modification of the custody order may also be sought if either parent consistently fails to adhere to the terms of the ongoing arrangement or if you believe the current arrangement places your child at risk.

You will need a family law attorney’s help to have a child custody order modified. You will also require an attorney’s help if your ex is seeking a modification of the custody order, but you don’t believe the modification is necessary or justified, and you want to contest the modification.

Parents on either side of a relocation dispute must have the advice and services of the right Rochester child custody attorney as soon as they anticipate that a dispute will emerge.

Sometimes, divorced parents can resolve a relocation dispute on their own or with a family law attorney’s advice, but if a relocation dispute cannot be settled privately, a court will resolve it.

What is a Court’s Highest Priority?

In any legal matter that involves a child in New York, the court’s highest priority will be the best interests of the child. When a relocation dispute comes before a judge, the law in New York requires the judge to make the ruling that is in the child’s best interests.

That is why a parent who seeks or opposes a custody modification may need to bring specific details to the court’s attention. If the child has health, learning, or behavioral issues, for instance, the court should be made aware so that it can act in accord with the child’s best interests.

The relocating parent will be asked to prove that the relocation will be in the best interests of the child, despite the child’s distance and time away from the other parent. The other parent may contend that the planned relocation is counter to the child’s best interests.

How Will the Court Handle a Custody Modification Request?

What does it take to modify a child custody order in New York? What will be considered when a court grants or denies a parent’s relocation request? A number of questions will have to be answered, including:

  1. What is the purpose or the reason for the relocation?
  2. How far away is the relocation?
  3. How will the relocation impact the child’s relationship with each parent?
  4. How will the relocation impact the relationship between the two parents?
  5. What emotional impact will the relocation have on the child?
  6. How is the relocation in the child’s best interests?

What Else Should You Know About Modifying a Custody Order?

Most family law attorneys will tell parents to attempt a compromise before taking a relocation dispute to court. Along with eliminating unnecessary acrimony, a compromise can save both parents considerable money and time.

But if your ex objects to the relocation and rejects any compromise, ask your Rochester family law attorney to file a request with the court for a modification of the child custody order, and be prepared to tell a judge why you believe that the relocation is in the child’s best interests.

Child custody modifications are not approved for trivial or frivolous reasons. The change that triggers a modification request must be a substantial life change, and any modification of the custody order must put the child’s best interests first.

Judges in child custody cases have substantial discretion and power whenever there is any doubt or question regarding a child’s best interests. Don’t be surprised if some sharp personal questions are asked at a child custody hearing or a child custody order modification hearing.

What Will an Attorney Do on Your Behalf?

The right custody attorney will help. Your attorney will explain and protect your parental rights, discuss your options, and advocate effectively for you and your child. Especially when a dispute with your ex threatens to become rancorous, you must have trustworthy, reliable legal guidance.

Parents who plan to relocate should speak with a Rochester child custody attorney long before the anticipated relocation date. A request for the modification of a child custody order requires meticulous preparation, and a ruling by the court could take weeks or even several months.

Do not wait to speak with an attorney. Seek out a New York family law attorney’s help as soon as a relocation becomes necessary. Nothing is more important than your child’s well-being and best interests.