California Move-Aways: Can “Virtual Visitation” Be Part of a Divorce Solution?

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Why Virtual Visitations Matter in 2021

New jobs and remarriage are two common reasons why divorced parents move out of San Diego or California. This may be on the rise with the increase of remote work due to the pandemic, but did you know virtual visitation has been around for years when it comes to move away scenarios.

Relocating or Moving Away During a Divorce

If you’re seeking to relocate with your kids during a divorce, you’ll need the court’s permission first, or else you’ll be in violation of your court order.

A move away is where one party seeks to relocate themselves, and their child, to another geographic area. The destination could be 50 miles away, or 2,000 miles, making it difficult for the other parent to maintain a relationship with their child.

If the court does grant the move away request, the non-custodial party will no longer be a significant part of their child’s day-to-day life. However, if the court denies the move away request, and the custodial parent has no choice but to move away, then the child will be separated from the parent they may have the closest bond with.

Either way, the circumstances are tough on the child.

What the Court will Consider

In move away requests, the court will consider various different factors, including:

  • The distance of the move away, if a move away is only a couple of hours away, it may be considered as less disruptive to the life of the child, and that child’s relationship with the non-custodial parent. However, a move away that takes the child across country, or to a different part of the globe, could require greater scrutiny. Usually, in international cases, the court will need to consider cultural differences, including potential, language, and dangers within the country where the child will be raised by the custodial parent.
  • The age of the child. Sometimes, a  move away that is far away from the other parent can be seen as more detrimental to a younger child who has a strong attachment to both parties.
  • The reason for the move away. In California, the parent does not have to justify their reasons for moving, but if there is evidence that the purpose of the move away is in bad faith, for example to interfere with the relationship between the child and non-custodial parent, the court will consider this in their decision.
  • The child’s relationship with each parent. The court will examine the relationship of the child with each parent and consider the attachment that may be present. If there is conflict between a parent and child, the court may appoint a child custody evaluator to make a decision.
  • The relationship between the parties. Do the parties engage in a healthy co-parenting relationship or is one parent undermining the other? If there is a significant distance between the parties there needs to exist a healthy co-parenting relationship or the noncustodial parents relationship with the child will suffer.
  • Where the child wants to live. In some cases, the child may be able to make a statement about where he or she wishes to live. In California, the law requires that children over the age of fourteen must be allowed to testify unless the court believes it will be harmful for the child.

Not that long ago a parent with sole custody had an almost unrestrained ability to relocate with the child, but California child custody law in move-away cases has gone through many changes in the past several years.  To decide whether to allow the move, the family court now looks at many factors, including whether the move would harm the child and how the child’s relationship with the non-custodial parent will likely be affected.

Even though it’s no longer as easy for a divorced parent to move with a child, if the relocation is allowed, a non-custodial parent’s main concern is in finding ways to stay close to their kids despite the distance.

When this happens, parents may want to consider virtual visitation as a way of keeping connected. 

Virtual visitation can mean chatting face-to-face online using video webcams, playing online games together, and instant messaging.  It’s not meant to be a substitute for the time you spend in person with your kids, but for long distance parents, video conferencing can help keep the relationship strong.

Related Article >> How to Oppose A Move Away Request

In an AP article posted on MSNBC, father Michael Gough spoke about how the technology helped to keep him and his daughter in contact.  Gough explained,

“I saw her first loose tooth.  I saw her haircut, new outfits – things you want to see on a daily basis but you can’t in person because you’re a divorced parent.”

For the same reasons, virtual visits can also help non-custodial parents who need to relocate.  Parents in this situation should also bear in mind how essential it is to modify your custody and visitation order so that you can maintain parenting time.

Move aways are one of the most difficult issues that can face families after divorce, and often a better resolution can be achieved through mediation.  Whenever possible, we’ll help you reach a mutual agreement with your ex-spouse and submit your agreement to the court for approval.

If you need to relocate with your kids, or if you need to prevent a move away, contact Minella Law Group’s family law attorneys at (619) 289-7948.  We’ll act quickly and take the steps needed to protect your family and work toward your goals. If you need further information about divorce of family law legal needs during the pandemic, please visit our COVID-19 family law resources page.

[this article has been updated since 2009 when it was originally published]