Moving with Children After an Oklahoma Divorce or Custody Case
When couples divorce or separate, one of the first things they want is distance from their ex. But in Oklahoma, they have to be careful about how much distance they put between each other. Because, if they go far enough, they may have to get the courts involved again.
This post will discuss the law on relocating with children that are subject to a custody or visitation order. First, it will go over when those requirements must be followed. Then, it will discuss the basic relocation requirements. Finally, it will explain the process of a relocation case and address safety concerns for survivors of domestic violence, stalking, and harassment.
When do you have to worry about relocation?
Oklahoma’s laws on relocation only apply in certain situations. First, there must be a court order concerning custody of or visitation with the children who want to move. If there is no order signed by a judge, then these requirements do not have to be followed. The order can be from a divorce case or a custody case.
(Keep in mind that this does not mean you should just take your kids and move wherever you want before filing for divorce or custody. You should speak with an attorney and get some advice before doing that.)
Second, there must be one parent entitled to custody of the children. Who this person is will depend on whether the court ordered sole or joint custody. If there is sole custody, then the parent who has it must follow the relocation requirements. In a joint custody plan, only the primary physical or residential custodian can invoke the relocation rules. If there is no primary custodial parent, then the court must appoint one before deciding the relocation issue.
Third, the relocation laws only kick in when the parent wants to move the children 75 miles or more away from their primary residence. So, if you’re just moving to another house in town, you don’t have to worry about these rules. Although, it is always a good idea to keep the other parent informed about the location of the children. They will find out sooner or later, so better that they hear it from you than someone else.
What are the basic relocation requirements?
Let’s assume the relocation requirements apply to you. What do you have to do? The process itself is fairly simple although it can quickly become bitter and ugly.
First, you must file notice of your intent to relocate in the same court where your order was granted. If your order was made in one county and later ordered to be moved to another county, file the notice with the second county’s court.
The notice will contain basic information like your new address, why you want to move, and what changes, if any, need to be made to the current visitation schedule. Except in certain cases, the notice must be given at least 60 days before the proposed move.
After the notice has been filed, it must be sent to the other parent. This notice must be given to them the same way notice was given in the original case. That means the other parent must voluntarily show up or be given notice by the sheriff or with certified mail.
Once the notice has been filed and served, the other parent has 30 days to file a written objection in the same court. If they do not file an objection, the relocating parent can move. But, if an objection is filed, then the court must hold a hearing to decide whether the children will be allowed to relocate or if custody will be changed to the other parent.
What happens at a relocation hearing?
The basic structure of a relocation hearing is much like any divorce or custody hearing. The person who filed the notice goes first. They can testify, call witnesses, and introduce evidence to support their case. The objecting parent goes second and can do the same things. Both sides get to look at the evidence being introduced and can ask questions to the other parent’s witnesses.
The relocating parent must first prove that they are moving “in good faith”. Basically, this means that one parent cannot be moving just to keep the children away from the other parent. Courts have found a wide range of reasons to be "in good faith", including job opportunities, financial reasons, or even to be close to a new spouse. Bad faith reasons include moving to interfere with the other parent’s relationship with the child. Lying about your reasons for moving is also a surefire way to lose your case.
If the judge thinks that the relocating parent wants to move in good faith, then the other parent must show that it would not be in the children’s best interests for them to move. Generally, having less contact with the non-relocating parent is not going to be enough to show that moving is against their best interests.
After the hearing, the judge will make their decision. They have a list of criteria they must consider before making their decision. One thing they cannot consider is whether the relocating parent would choose to stay if their relocation request was denied.
If the relocation is granted, the parent gets to move and any necessary changes to visitation are made. If the relocation is denied, then custody is usually given to the other parent.
What if I am afraid to tell the other parent where I am moving?
An unfortunately common reason for relocation is a parent’s desire to get away from an abusive ex. Staying in the same area, where the abuser knows their location, can sometimes be extremely dangerous. Moving is useless if you have to tell the other parent where you will be living.
Luckily, there can be a way to relocate safely. First, the court must find that the health, safety, or liberty of a parent or child will be put at risk by disclosing information like a new address. If it does, then the judge can order that certain information be withheld or only given to the judge. It can even waive the notice requirements entirely.
As you can see, relocation issues are a lot like other areas of family law. They seem simple, but they can turn very complicated very quickly. If you or your ex are considering relocating with your children, seek the advice of an experienced family law attorney. If you are the victim of domestic violence, trust someone who has worked in this field for years.
The content of this post is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be taken as legal advice.