In-State Moves
Key Points
  • In-state moves are not viewed the same as out-of-state relocation issues. Depending on where a parent is moving to in-state relocation is handled differently even if the parent is moving to a different county or part of the state.
  • The best interest of the child standard still applies when it comes to intra-state or interstate relocation.
  • Geographical distance is not always the an issue with an intra-state relocation and the burden is on the non-custodial parent to prove otherwise.

Relocation disputes may also arise when the custodial parent seeks to move with the child to another location within the same state. Generally, such intrastate moves are allowed regardless of the differing relocation standards applied by the states. The reason for this is that most intrastate relocations typically do not involve the same amount of geographical distance between the parents as most interstate moves.

For example, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania allowed the custodial parent to relocate to another county within Pennsylvania in Bednarek v. Velazquez, 830 A.2d 1267 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2003). The father opposed the mother’s proposed move to another county 73 miles away with the parties’ children. The relocation was so the mother could attend college. Furthermore, she had already secured housing as well as employment at the school. Applying the relevant standard for interstate moves, the trial court found that the mother’s relocation was in the best interests of the children.

Recognizing that the case presented a different situation from one involving an interstate move, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania concluded that the trial court had the discretion whether or not to use the interstate relocation standard in intrastate cases. The court noted that the geographical distance involved in an intrastate move could vary wildly from case to case. The court concluded that the primary basis for applying the interstate standard was the size of this geographic distance and its effect on the noncustodial parent’s relationship with the children.

Giving the trial courts the discretion to apply Gruber in intra-state relocations will appropriately focus the best interest analysis where geographical distance is truly an issue and will not "burden our family courts with the necessity of prior approval of any relocation absent a showing by the non-custodial parent that such a move will negatively affect the parent child relationship." Id. at 1271. The court found that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in permitting the mother’s relocation. See, e.g., Van Asten v. Costa, 874 So. 2d 1244 (Fla. 4th Dist. Ct. App. 2004) (mother’s request to relocate within the state was denied where proposed substitute visitation would be inadequate for father and child to maintain their relationship); In re Marriage of Seitzinger, 333 Ill. App. 3d 103, 775 N.E.2d 282, 288 (2002) ("It is not necessary for a custodial parent or a parent with primary physical custody to obtain permission from a court before moving to another location in Illinois."); Watt v. Watt, 971 P.2d 608 (Wyo. 1999) (custodial parent’s intrastate move could not be considered a material change in circumstances warranting change of custody); Schulze v. Morris, 361 N.J. Super. 419, 825 A.2d 1173 (App. Div. 2003) (intrastate moves judged by same standard as interstate moves).

Some states have enacted statutes which allow a custodial parent to relocate within a state without having to seek permission from the court as long as the proposed move is less than a fixed distance as provided in the statute.

For instance, Mich. Comp. Laws Ann. 722.31 provides that a custodial parent cannot move more than 100 miles away from the child’s legal residence without seeking the court’s permission. The distance limitation in other states varies from 60 miles to 150 miles. In these states, a custodial parent is given some freedom to relocate within the state without involving the court. See, e.g., Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. 25-408 (2004) (no notice if no more than 100 miles intrastate); Or. Rev. Stat. 107.159 (2004) (no notice if no more than 60 miles from noncustodial parent); Utah Code Ann. 30-3-37 (2004) (no notice if less than 150 miles from residence specified in court’s decree).

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PRESUMPTION IN FAVOR OF RELOCATION -- In many states, such as Arkansas, the court favors allowing relocation of the custodial parent. A majority of states, including New York, decide relocation requests based on the best interest of the child. A few states, such as Connecticut, have a neutral approach, a middle ground approach. Both the custodial parent and the non-custodial parent have the burden of demonstrating why relocation should or should not be permitted.

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