First, if you don’t have any court orders (i.e. a Decree of Divorce, a Decree of Paternity, an Order of Custody, etc.) then there aren’t any restrictions on you moving from one place to another. That scenario will be addressed at the end of this blog post, so if that’s the position you’re in then skip to the last section. For everyone else that already has existing court orders, then whenever a parent is intending to move 150 miles or more from the other parent and plans on taking the kid(s) along with them, they must send that other parent written notice at least 60 days before the move. This is detailed in §30-3-37 of the Utah Code. Providing this notice gives the other parent an opportunity to request a hearing before the court to address whether the move is in the children’s best interests.
What Kind of Written Notice Must be Sent?
We often get parents asking if a text message will be sufficient “written notice.” Probably not, unless your Decree of Divorce says it is. If I’m the attorney that writes the Decree of Divorce, I will typically have something that says “text message or email will be deemed sufficient notice…” so make sure you check the specific language in your documents. I tell my clients to send a letter in the mail and then send an email or a text message afterward telling the other parent, “I have just sent you a letter about my upcoming move to _____. I plan to leave (date).” If you have an attorney representing you, the attorney will often draft and send the letter for you and even file the letter with the court. The goal is to let the other parent know, in the best way possible, that you intend to move. You don’t want the other parent coming back later after you’ve already moved away, saying they never received notice. As you can imagine, that scenario can get messy quickly.
What Should I Do if the Other Parent Sends Me Notice of Their Move?
If you received a notice of the other parent’s intent to move, it’s important you act quickly. You’ll need to file a request for a hearing under §30-3-37. This kind of request will usually get you in for a court hearing much sooner than you would otherwise. Usually when a parent requests this kind of hearing they will provide the court with all of the reasons they believe the children should remain in their current location rather than move with the other parent. Next, most court orders (i.e. Decrees of Divorce, Paternity, etc.) will require you to mediate before taking an issue to the court. You will want to get a mediation scheduled as soon as possible so that you don’t have to delay the court hearing. If the two parents cannot resolve the dispute then a judge or commissioner will make a final decision as to whether the moving parent will be permitted to take the children with them.
What Happens at the Court Hearing?
By the time you get to the court hearing, both sides have probably argued for their cause. This means that the moving parent has told the court all of the reasons why the children should be able to move with them and the non-moving parent has told the court all of the reasons why the children should stay put. The judge or commissioner will review all of the evidence, hear the arguments from the parties, and then decide what is in the children’s best interests—that’s the test the court uses: what is in the children’s best interests. The court usually comes out one of two ways:
- The court finds that the children would be better off moving with the parent, so it allows the parent to move and allows the parent to take the children with them.
- The court finds the children would be better off staying in their current environment (school, friends, place they’re familiar, where the other parent is, etc.) and so the parent can choose to either (a) move and leave the kids here, where the remaining parent would assume custody of the children or (b) they can choose not to move and keep the parent-time arrangement the same.
Over the past few years, the Utah Court of Appeals and the Utah Supreme Court have addressed issues related to a parent moving away from the other parent. This matters because these cases dictate how other courts will decide your case. It’s a good idea to talk with an attorney about new progress in this area so you can help persuade the judge to your way of thinking.