We start the year by concluding the discussion of relocation of a custodial parent. Parts 1 and 2 dealt with general issues. Parts 3 and 4 will deal with some specific considerations.
As discussed previously, in evaluating a custodial parent’s request for permission to relocate with a minor a court must determine if such a move would be in a child’s best interests using the factors set forth in Tropea v. Tropea. The impact of the move on quantity and quality of the child’s future time with the non-custodial parent may be the most important factor in a Tropea analysis. A distant relocation probably will be denied where the non-custodial parent always exercised substantial parenting time. However, this is not a rigid rule. The Tropea analysis requires a court to consider the feasibility of preserving the relationship between the noncustodial parent and child through “suitable visitation arrangements”.
“Suitable visitation arrangements” can mean many different things. This could be adding time on weekends, such as Monday holidays, or adding additional time during summers and school holidays. Also, a court may consider if the relocating party agrees to provide the additional transportation or to pay any related transportation costs. Suitable visitation arrangements means that a parenting schedule can be changed to accommodate relocation.
Where the non-custodial parent does not spend much time with the child, suitable visitation arrangements to preserve the relationship may be easy to craft. However, when the non-custodial parent spends significant mid-week time with the child there probably is very little that can be done to substitute for this time. Suitable visitation arrangements may not be possible to arrange.
Technology offers some solutions and options for preserving the relationship between the non-custodial parent and the child through suitable visitation arrangements. Courts have found that the purchase and use of video conferencing equipment established the feasibility of preserving the relationship. Today millions of kids have iPhones or iPods that have Facetime and millions more have other similar technology at their very often disposal. Kids often know how to use this technology better than their parents. This technology now is a very viable option for trying to preserve a parent child relationship across the miles. However easy to use and inexpensive this technology is, it still may not provide a “suitable” substitute for actual time together for parent and child. This is a difficult balancing that a Court must do.