Relocation: Who Keeps the Kids When a Parent Moves Out of State?

Relocation.  This is a complicated issue that comes up when one parent wants to move out of the State of Utah with the children.  Recently this month (December 2015), the Utah Court of Appeals issued a very important ruling on this relocation issue.  This case will shape future relocation cases.

In Pinegree v. Pinegree, 2015 UT App 302, the Court of Appeals looked at the interpretation on the Utah Relocation State (Utah Code 30-3-37).  This case involved a divorced mom and dad, and a child (approximately 7 years old).  Both the mom and dad had joint physical custody of their child.  Initially, the mother was going through medical school during the divorce.  When she finished medical school, she needed to do her residency out of the state of Utah.  The mother wanted to move the child out of the state of Utah.  The Judge determined that the primary focus of a relocation case must be on the best interests of the child(ren).  In the Judge’s analysis, if the relocation is not in the child’s best interest, then the Court has authority to order a change in custody if the custodial parent chooses to relocate out of the state of Utah.

In this case, the Judge found that the Mother moving away from Utah would disturb the joint physical custody arrangement and the move would create a disruption, when the child has lived in Salt Lake her whole life.  The Judge found that this child has a family in Utah and friends in Utah.  The Court ultimately determined that the child had continuity in Utah.  So, the Court awarded the dad a conditional change in custody (if the mom elected to move out of the state of Utah.

The interesting aspect of this relocation case is that there is not a separate analysis of whether such a change in custody would be in the child’s best interest.  Instead, the Court adopts this idea:  if it is not in the child’s best interest to relocate, it is in his/her best interest to remain where he/she currently lives.

So basically, the mom’s hands were tied.  She would lose custody of the child if she moved away from Utah to pursue her professional dreams.  The mom appealed this Court decision and the Appellate Court upheld the District Court decision.  The Appeals Court stated: “Thus, Mother is left with a choice: She can leave circumstances as they were agreed upon at the time of divorce, staying in Utah and forgoing a residency if she cannot find one here, or she can elect to relocate, at which point the custody arrangement will change so that the child can remain in Utah.”

If you have any additional questions regarding relocation, or moving out of the state of Utah, please call Melanie Cook Law at (385) 777-5940.