Murray and Monique divorced a few years ago and share custody of their two minor children. The kids stay with Murray for most of their days, and they attend a school just two blocks away from Murray’s house, in a Massachusetts town in which the educational system has great reviews. Monique has generous visitation, and the children spend two nights per week and every other weekend at her house, which is a five-minute drive away. Things are working fine—until Murray announces to Monique that he has received an offer of employment in a Massachusetts town more than an hour away, and that he intends to relocate to that town with the children. Monique objects to the move, as she believes it will significantly reduce her time with the children. She also notes that the school system in Murray’s new time receives significantly lower reviews than the children’s current school district.
Sharing custody across different towns can be a difficult endeavor; however, it can be manageable if both parents are willing to collaborate. As with any other issue concerning custody of children, the Massachusetts Probate and Family Courts will consider what is in the best interests of the child(ren) in making decisions about where the child(ren) should live. In the context of in-state moves, the Court will consider first and foremost whether the move would constitute a real advantage for the child. For example, the Court might look at the following questions:
- Is the move disruptive to the child’s social or educational progress?
- Is the move disruptive to the current visitation schedule?
- Will the move improve the child’s quality of life?
- Will the move potentially cause adverse effects on the child due to reduced visitation with the non-custodial parent?
- Will the move improve stability in the life of the child?
- Does the move violate an earlier agreement by the custodial parent not to move outside a particular geographic area?
As with most family law matters, the above are merely factors the Court may consider at its discretion, in order to evaluate what type of custody and visitation arrangement will be in the best interests of the child. Unlike out-of-state relocation, there is no Massachusetts statute which expressly governs in-state moves. As such, the Court will review these factors, among any other relevant factors present, to reach its decision.
In one case, the Appeals Court considered the objections of a father whose ex-wife decided to move their minor children from Eastern Massachusetts to the Western part of the state. The father sought a modification of the divorce decree, asking that custody be awarded to him. In her counterclaim, the mother asked the Court for permission to relocate the children to Western Massachusetts. The trial judge sided with the father, and remarked that the move would disadvantage the children, would favor the mother’s own desires, and would sacrifice the desires of the father. The Appeals Court, however, remanded the case and urged the Probate and Family Court to take into consideration whether the move might provide a real advantage for the children. In some cases, the Court noted, it might be possible for a real advantage to exist—whether it be through increased stability or better opportunities for the children in the care of the custodial parent.
If you have questions about parenting across different towns, schedule a free consultation with our office. Call 978-225-9030 during regular business hours or complete a contact form here, and we will get back to you at our earliest opportunity.
 D.C. v. J.S., 58 Mass.App.Ct. 351 (2003).