Presenting the Relocation Case at Trial
When your desire to relocate is being contested by the other parent, you will need to litigate your case in court. Fundamentally, litigating a new relocation plan requires providing evidence that the relocation would serve the best interests of the child. In practical terms, this means you will need to bring evidence to back up the claims you are making in the planning stage of the relocation. Again, a competent attorney is necessary to know what kinds of evidence is best suited to the arguments you will be making and to make those arguments on your behalf. In this section, we will look at the kinds of evidence you might bring to bear on the planning we discussed above.
The first step in litigating your case is to present why you want to make the move. Is this due to a new job opportunity? To be closer for family? To be able to afford a better home? For a change in climate? Clearly articulating the impetus for the move without confounding that with other potential benefits is essential. You don’t want to misrepresent your reasons. Rather, you want to bolster your reasons with additional ways in which the relocation will benefit your child.
Similarly, what are the objections being raised by the other parent? Does it impact the time the other parent can spend with the child? Is it over the change in culture in which the child will be raised? Are there current activities that will be lost? Knowing ahead of time what the issues are will allow you to respond with your own evidence to attempt to ameliorate these concerns.
Perhaps the most critical factor in the court’s decision is the history and quality of both parents’ relationship with the child. This touches on a wide range of engagement with the child and includes such things as time spent together, special activities the parents do with the child, participation in the child’s educational pursuits and extracurricular activities, and involvement in the healthcare of the child, to name just a few.
While evaluating the quality of a parental bond is subjective, there are ways in which evidence to demonstrate that bond can be gathered. If possible, letters from those who have witnessed your involvement with you child can be helpful. Those narratives can speak to the quality criteria the court will consider. Additionally, you can document the history of your involvement with your child on the items mentioned above as well as others that speak to your level of engagement. For example, how often you took your child to a doctor or the number of times you watched a sporting event are ways to demonstrate a level of involvement. What is critical is to be able not only document your involvement in these matters, but to also understand the other parent’s involvement. This will enable you to discuss how the move will impact them, how changes in important involvement will be mitigated, and what new opportunities exist for your child that the proposed relocation provides.
Related to the parent’s bond is the change in familial relationships that the move will entail. This means that you will need to document the engagement of other family members such as siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and other important adults in your child’s life. Will the move disrupt these relationships or enhance them? Will they be moving away from family or to a place where family members reside? Are there ways you can establish the importance of these relationships through how often they see these people? Being able to anticipate and mitigate the change in these important relationships will factor into a court’s decision.
Educational opportunities are critical in the court’s determination of a relocation. Having a thorough understanding of your child’s current and potential educational opportunities means being able to document those in some fashion. Particularly in the case of the proposed relocation, it is important that you gather information on the school your child will be attending. Ideally, this involves visiting the school, talking with teachers and staff, and collecting materials on opportunities available for your child. At the very least, visiting school web pages and gathering material will provide evidence of your understanding of your child’s current and potential educational opportunities. In addition, most states grade the educational prowess of their schools. While state to state comparisons may not be possible because of differing criteria being used for evaluations, the information from these reports can augment your other data on your child’s current and potential school.
Understanding your child’s current community involvement in activities like sports, the arts, religious participation, and other recreational activities is important in being able to evaluate what kinds of similar activities exist in the proposed relocation community. Having documentation of what is available by ideally visiting community organizations or at least websites of these organizations is important for providing evidence to back up your arguments. Visiting community organizations is preferable in that you can learn more than what you might from a website by talking with people who live in the community. In addition to looking for comparable community activities, there may be opportunities in the new community that don’t exist in your child’s current community. Knowing your child’s interests and investigating and documenting what new opportunities exist for them should be part of your overall litigation strategy.
A community’s culture and lifestyle may be more difficult to gauge but it can be done. You can get a feel for a place through your discussions with educators and community organizations while investigating those issues. But you can also find indicators online of a number of community characteristic such as religiosity, political leanings, overall physical and mental health and fitness, safety, crime rates, alcohol and drug consumption, or most other features you might be interested in. This kind of hard data can back up your own anecdotal impressions or the impressions of long-term residents you have a chance to speak with.
Your evidence will be bolstered with the testimony of other people. These people can include professionals who are involved in your child’s life. For example, school counselors, teachers or administrative personnel can speak to your child’s aptitudes and ways in which a move may affect this. Other examples may be important adults in your child’s life such as a coach, religious leader, or any other person that interacts regularly in an interest area of your child’s life. These people don’t need to weigh in on the relocation itself, simply their observations based on their relationship with your child about what is important to them. Their statements can then be added to research you have done on the region you are considering relocating and the opportunities that exist there.
An additional resource available to you is the use of Child and Family Investigators (CFI’s) and Parental Responsibilities Evaluators (PRE’s) . The court must appoint this person but can do so at the request of either party or can make its own determination to appoint. The court will outline the scope of investigation these people can engage in. The difference between these two is that PRE’s can utilize psychological and drug testing in their investigation. CFI’s cannot but can recommend them to the court in their report. The use of CFI’s or PRE’s is not a starting point in your process. Rather, they can be useful to untangle conflict that arises in the process of negotiating your relocation.
While litigating your case may ultimately be the necessary step in your relocation, an alternative exists where you might be able to secure a formal agreement with the other parent. We will discuss how that might occur in our next post.
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