Breaking up is hard to do, but for parents, the aftermath can be even worse. When two parents end their relationship, they are no longer free to take their children along when they move away to a new location to further their career or pursue a new love interest. Instead, they have to clear a number of legal hurdles.

What happens if a parent wants to relocate with the children?

Missouri has very specific laws about whether and how a parent can move away with children. “Relocation” is defined as a change in the child’s principal (main) residence for 90 days or more. If the child moves for less than 90 days, that’s only considered a temporary change and the relocation laws don’t apply.

If a parent wants to move away and take the children, that parent first has to provide the non-moving parent, and any other person who might have custody and visitation rights (for example, if there’s a court order that gives visitation to a grandparent or other family member) with a written notice of intent to move. The notice has to be provided at least 60 days before the proposed move happens, although if there are “exigent” (emergency) circumstances, the relocating parent can ask a court to shorten the 60-day requirement.

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How do judges decide whether to allow relocation?

A parent who wishes to move away with a child has to prove the following three things.

  1. The relocating parent must prove that the relocation is being sought in good faith. This means that the move is for legitimate reasons and is not being made to interfere with the non-relocating parent’s custody and visitation.
  2. The relocating parent has to show compliance with all notice requirements.
  3. The Missouri family courts require any relocation to serve the best interests of a child.

How have Missouri courts decided relocation cases in the past?

In a recent and legally significant decision, the Missouri Court of Appeals took up a paternity case where the mother and father were awarded joint custody, but the child mainly lived with the mother and the father had visitation. Several years later, the mother notified the father that she wanted to move to another Missouri city and take the child with her. The father took the mother to court to block the move, but in the meantime, the mother moved away with the child without permission and enrolled the child in a new school district.

The family court judge blocked the move because the mother failed to properly notify the father or to consult with him about major decisions, like enrolling the child in another school district. The family court judge also ordered the mother to return the child. Later, the Court of Appeals upheld the family court’s decision, noting that the mother had failed to comply with statutory notice requirements and that the family court had carefully considered testimony and evidence establishing that a move was not in the child’s best interests.

Tana Benner is an estate planning lawyer.