Relocating Children After a Missouri Divorce

Happy single mother and her small daughter in cardboard box at their new home.

When a court in Missouri grants a divorce involving a minor child or children, it must determine that all of the provisions of the divorce affecting the children are in the children’s best interests. This often includes a custody order giving both parents equitable — if not entirely equal — visitation rights with their child, while giving one parent the right to designate the child’s primary residence. What happens if that parent wants to move, and to take the child with them? Regardless of where that parent intends to move, they have an obligation to inform the other parent via certified letter, and the other parent has the right to object to the move. This can be a particularly difficult issue for parents with jobs that expect them to relocate from time to time.

Residence of a Child in a Divorce Decree

Missouri law identifies two types of custody:

  • Legal custody: The authority to make decisions regarding “the health, education and welfare of the child”; and
  • Physical custody: The right to physical possession of the child in the parent’s residence or under their “care and supervision.”

A court may grant joint legal and joint physical custody to both parents, meaning that they share in decision-making authority and must consult with one another on important decisions regarding the child. It also means that they must share possession of the child as much as possible, with the goal of providing “frequent, continuing and meaningful contact” with each parent.

Of course, life is complicated, and sometimes a parent has to move for any number of reasons. If the child lives with them as their main residence designated for education and mailing purposes, however, they cannot just pick up and leave with the child. Missouri establishes procedures that the parent must follow.

Relocating a Child Within Missouri

Under Missouri law, a court can only modify residential custody in a child custody order if it finds that “a change has occurred in the circumstances of the child or his custodian” since the date of the existing order, and that modification would be in “the best interests of the child.” Relocating a child’s primary residence does not necessarily require modification of the custody order by the court, provided that the parent follows certain procedures.

Relocation,” as defined by state law, means “a change in the principal residence of a child for a period of ninety days or more.” A change of address that both parents agree is temporary is not considered a relocation. This allows for travel and temporary arrangements like visiting relatives, attending summer camp, or studying abroad for a semester..

The procedure for relocating a child is essentially the same regardless of whether the planned is within Missouri or across state lines, except that additional provisions apply to a move away from Missouri. For any planned relocation, the parent intending to move the child must provide notice to the other parent at least sixty days in advance. The notice must include:

  • The address and phone number of the new residence, if known, or the city if not known;
  • The date for the planned move;
  • A statement explaining the reasons for the move;
  • Proposed revisions to the custody and visitation schedule; and
  • A statement of the other parent’s right to file a motion in court objecting to the move.

The other parent has thirty days from the date they receive the notice to object to the move. If the parents agree to a revised custody and visitation schedule, they can file it with the court, and the court can add it to the custody order without holding a hearing.

Relocating a Child Outside of Missouri

State law provides that moving a child outside of Missouri could constitute a “change of circumstances” providing grounds for modifying the custody decree. The statute does not make an exception for when a parent provides notice of the planned move. That said, the other parent still has thirty days from the date they receive the notice to object.

The main issue that distinguishes relocation of a child outside of Missouri from moves within the state is that Missouri law does not apply outside of Missouri. We will discuss the need to change courts further below, but for now, just know that state and federal law have provisions for enforcing child custody orders in other states and, to a lesser extent, in other countries.

Every U.S. state has procedures for accepting out-of-state child custody orders. If, for example, a parent has a custody order for their child in California when they move to Missouri, they can petition a Missouri court to adopt the California order. This gives it the force of law in this state.

Missouri has enacted the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, which allows courts to handle interstate custody disputes. At the international level, the U.S. is a party to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, also known as the “Hague Abduction Convention” or just the “Hague Convention.” Obviously, this focuses on situations where a parent has taken a child out of the country without authorization, so this is less applicable to situations where a parent plans a move.

Objecting to Relocation

If the parent who is not moving objects to the proposed move, they must file a motion with the court within thirty days of receiving notice. The motion must include an affidavit that “set[s] forth the specific good-faith factual basis supporting a prohibition of the relocation.”

The parent who intends to move then has fourteen days to file a response, which must include “a counter-affidavit setting forth the facts in support of the relocation” and proposed modifications to the existing custody plan. Even if all parties waited until the last possible day to submit the required documents, there should still be sixteen days until the date of the planned move.

Changing Courts After Relocation

The court that granted the original custody decree continues to have jurisdiction over the child or children, unless the child or children move. If a parent relocates a child outside of the county where the divorce occurred, the court in the original county can decline jurisdiction over further disputes between the parents. The parent would have to petition the court in their new county of residence to accept jurisdiction. A similar process must occur if the parent moves the child to a new state.

For Example?

Suppose Parent A and Parent B have one child. They were divorced in Jackson County, Missouri in 2015. The court approved their custody agreement, in which they have joint legal and physical custody, with Parent A’s residence as the child’s address. Everything went smoothly for a few years.

In September 2020, Parent A learns that their employer is transferring them to the St. Louis office. They are expected to be ready to start working in St. Louis on Monday, January 4, 2021. If Parent A wants the child to come with them, they must provide notice to Parent B by November 5, 2020. Parent A gives written notice to Parent B on September 9. Parent B receives the notice the same day.

Parent B now has until October 9 to file a motion objecting to the move. They quickly hire a lawyer, who drafts the motion and files it on September 16. Parent A has until September 30 to respond. They do so, and the court is able to hear the case well in advance of the planned move date.

Mark A. Wortman is a family law attorney in Kansas City, Missouri focuses exclusively on divorce, child custody, and related matters. To schedule a confidential consultation with a knowledgeable and skilled legal advocate, please contact us today online or give us a call at (816) 523-6100.