If you are thinking about filing for divorce in Maryland or the District of Columbia and if you are also contemplating a move out-of-state, there are some legal and practical issues to consider. Divorces are always complicated and relocating out-of-state can make matters even more complicated.
For this article, we will assume that the divorce is pending and that one spouse wishes to move out-of-state for, maybe, an employment opportunity, to be closer to extended family or for other reasons. We will also assume that the divorce does NOT involve any circumstances of physical or emotional abuse by one spouse toward the other (or to any children of the marriage). An out-of-state move can be seen as reasonable if abuse is an issue in the divorce.
Putting aside circumstances of abuse, an out-of-state relocation causes the most complications in a pending divorce for child custody and visitation issues, but can also impact disposition of assets like the marital home.
In both Maryland and the District of Columbia, divorce courts use a “best interests of the child” standard when evaluating issues of child custody/visitation. Among the factors that courts consider are these:
- Stability of home life and education
- Ability for children to remain “connected” to both parents – which can be important even in sole custody awards
- Location and availability of extended family and “support network”
- Economic and financial resources
- The distance of the relocation
- And more
If the relocating parent is also seeking sole or joint custody of the children, the question of relocation will play a role in how the court decides the custody and visitation issues. The “stability” factors may weigh in favor of keeping the children “home” and awarding custody to the non-relocating parent. But, at the same time, if applicable, the “extended family and support network” and the “economic” factors might weigh in favor of granting custody to the relocating parent. The distance of the move also matters. From a judge’s perspective, moving just across the state line is quite different than moving to California.
Predicting how a court will rule is not possible since there are too many unique features of a given family’s life and circumstances. As such, there is no set standard for how a court will rule. Weighing the factors is a judgment call for the court.
If the relocating parent is not seeking joint custody and is, maybe, only seeking limited visitation rights, the out-of-state move will probably have little impact on the final divorce decree and/or the award of child custody/visitation. Obviously, if there are no children involved in the divorce, these issues are eliminated.
Disposition of the marital home
Another issue to consider is how the divorce court will divide marital property and, in particular, what the court might decide with respect to disposition of the marital home. Assuming there is only one significant property holding, generally, the spouse seeking to relocate will not attempt to claim the marital home (and courts would probably look askance at such a request). However, depending on the circumstances, sale of the marital home is more likely when one spouse seeks to relocate. This may or may not be an important consideration in a given divorce, but the possibility should not be neglected since there can be large immediate and future financial and tax implications when real property is sold.
As a reminder, the divorce court that issues the Order of Dissolution will have jurisdiction to modify the Order into the indefinite future. Thus, any efforts to modify the Order – to modify custody, child support or alimony – will have to be filed where the Order was entered. The relocating spouse will have a disadvantage in this respect and will have to accept any resulting inconvenience.
Maryland and D.C. Family Law Attorneys
For more information, contact the seasoned and experienced Maryland and D.C. divorce and family law attorneys at The Law Offices of Thomas Stahl. We have the experience and expertise you need. Schedule a consultation today or call us at (410) 696-4326 or (202) 964-7280.