A parent should not move his or her child to a foreign country without a court order and a detailed co-parenting plan.
Why Is a Court Order so Important?
Filing for divorce is a big decision for any couple. However, couples with children have even more to consider when divorcing. They have to work together to create a workable co-parenting plan that outlines custody, visitation, and communication plans. Typically, a couple files a custody agreement with the family court that states which parent is the primary custodial parent. However, custody agreements are state-specific. A judge needs to agree and enter an order before a parent can move children across state lines. If one member of the couple is considering immigrating as a single parent, he or she must receive permission from the family court.
Even if the custodial parent has sole custody of the children, he or she must have a court order before leaving the country with the children. A parent who relocates a child to a foreign country without a court order and the other parent’s consent has committed parental kidnapping. If the parent’s new home participates in the Hague Convention, the authorities in the United States and the new country will work together to return the child.
What Does a Court Consider When Deciding Whether to Allow Relocation?
If both parents agree to the move, a judge is likely to agree to the arrangement. However, absent an agreement, the parents will have to petition the family court to enter an order either allowing or disallowing relocation of the children. When determining whether to allow relocation, a family court judge will consider:
· Which parent has primary custody
· The country to which the parent wishes to relocate
· Whether the parent is relocating for a new job
· The immigration status of the parent after relocation
· What type of support system the child will have (extended family and friends, for example)
· The care the child will receive, including education, medical, and shelter
· How convenient it will be for the co-parent to visit
· Quality of life
· The feasibility of the child maintaining a healthy relationship with both parents
How Can Parents Make a Workable Long Distance Co-Parenting Plan?
It can be difficult for a divorcing couple to agree to and stick with a co-parenting plan. Both parents have to commit to the work and cooperation needed to make it successful. If both parents agree to an overseas move or a judge enters an order allowing the custodial parent to move, they will need to create a strong parenting plan that considers the difficulties added by extreme distance. The Co-Parenting plan should include:
· Accommodations for healthy communications between parents and children
· Plans for regular, consistent communication between the non-custodial parent and the children
· An agreement for respectful communication between the two parents
· A calendar that outlines visitations between the non-custodial parent and the children, including holidays and extended visitation periods
As in any situation involving children, the parents and family court’s top priority should be the well-being of the children. When an overseas move benefits the children, all parties should work together to ensure the children can maintain a happy, healthy, and meaningful relationship with both parents.