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Custody Relocation: A Negative Effect on Children – In LaMusga

In adoption abuse, Alienation of Affection, Best Interest of the Child, California Parental Rights Amendment, Child Custody, Child Support, child trafficking, children criminals, children legal status, Childrens Rights, Civil Rights, deadbeat dads, Department of Social Servies, Divorce, Domestic Relations, Domestic Violence, DSM-IV, due process rights, family court, Family Court Reform, Family Rights, fatherlessness, fathers rights, federal crimes, Foster CAre Abuse, Freedom, HIPAA Law, Homeschool, judicial corruption, kidnapped children, Liberty, motherlessness, mothers rights, National Parents Day, Non-custodial fathers, Non-custodial mothers, parental alienation, Parental Alienation Syndrome, Parental Kidnapping, Parental Relocation, Parental Rights Amendment, Parentectomy, Parents rights, Rooker-Feldman Doctrine, state crimes, Title Iv-D, Torts on June 5, 2009 at 4:00 pm

© 2004 National Legal Research Group, Inc.

A custodial parent’s proposed relocation will almost always have a negative impact on the relationship of the noncustodial parent and the children. The California Supreme Court recently clarified the standard to be used in relocation cases in that state, holding that this impact should be considered as a factor in determining whether the custodial parent’s proposed relocation will result in detriment to the children sufficient to warrant a modification of custody.

In In re Marriage of LaMusga, Cal. 4th 12 Cal. Rptr. 3d 356 (2004), after a contentious custody battle, the parties were awarded joint custody of their two children with the mother being awarded primary physical custody. Several years later, the mother again sought to relocate to Ohio with the children. A child custody evaluation was performed that established that the father’s relationship with the children would deteriorate after the relocation and that, based on the mother’s previous behavior, there was no indication that she would be supportive of the father’s continued relationship with the children despite her claims to the contrary. The trial court found that the mother’s proposed relocation was not made in bad faith but concluded that the effect of the move would be detrimental to the welfare of the children because it would hinder frequent and continuing contact between the children and the father. The trial court held that if the mother chose to relocate, primary physical custody of the children would be transferred to the father.

The trial court’s decision was reversed by the California Court of Appeal. The court of appeal held that the trial court had failed to properly consider the mother’s presumptive right as custodial parent to change the residence of the children or the children’s need for continuity and stability in the existing custodial arrangement. 12 Cal. Rptr. 3d at 371. The court of appeal also found that the trial court had “placed undue emphasis on the detriment that would be caused by the children’s relationship with Father if they moved.” Id.

The court of appeal relied on an earlier California Supreme Court decision, In re Marriage of Burgess, 13 Cal. 4th 25, 51 Cal. Rptr. 2d 444 (1996). In Burgess, the Supreme Court of California held that in relocation cases there was no requirement that the custodial parent demonstrate that the proposed relocation was “necessary.” LaMusga, 12 Cal. Rptr. 3d at 367 (quoting Burgess, 51 Cal. Rptr. 2d at 452). Instead, the burden is on the noncustodial parent to prove that a change of circumstances exists warranting a change in the custody arrangement. LaMusga, 12 Cal. Rptr. 3d at 367. The supreme court also held that “paramount needs for continuity and stability in custody arrangements . . . weigh heavily in favor of maintaining ongoing custody arrangements.” Id. at 371 (quoting Burgess, 51 Cal. Rptr. 2d at 449-50).

The supreme court rejected the court of appeal’s position that undue emphasis was placed on the detrimental effect of the proposed relocation on the father’s relationship with the children. The court of appeal concluded that all relocations result in “a significant detriment to the relationship between the child and the noncustodial parent” and, therefore, no custodial parent would ever be permitted to relocate with the children as long as any detriment could be established. Id. at 373. The supreme court accepted the validity of the court of appeal’s position but noted that the court of appeal’s fears were unfounded. The supreme court stated that “a showing that a proposed move will cause detriment to the relationship between the children and the noncustodial parent” will not mandate a change in custody. Id. Instead, a trial court has discretion to order such a change in custody based on the showing of such a detriment if such a change is in the best interests of the child. Id. The supreme court explained its holding as follows:

The likely consequences of a proposed change in the residence of a child, when considered in the light of all the relevant factors, may constitute a change of circumstances that warrants a change in custody, and the detriment to the child’s relationship with the noncustodial parent that will be caused by the proposed move, when considered in light of all the relevant factors, may warrant denying a request to change the child’s residence or changing custody. The extent to which a proposed move will detrimentally impact a child varies greatly depending upon the circumstances. We will generally leave it to the superior court to assess that impact in light of the other relevant factors in determining what is in the best interests of the child.

Id. at 374-75.

The Supreme Court of California in LaMusga has seemingly retreated from its much broader decision in Burgess. In Burgess, the court essentially established a presumption in favor of maintaining a custody arrangement in the interests of a child’s paramount need for continuity and stability. In LaMusga, however, the court stepped away from this presumption and found that the child’s need for continuity and stability was just one factor in determining whether to modify a custody award. The court found that other factors, such as the detrimental effect of the proposed relocation on the relationship between a child and the noncustodial parent, could also control the outcome of a custody case depending on the unique facts of each case. The supreme court’s decision in LaMusga seems to subscribe to the principle that due to the fact-intensive nature of relocation cases a comprehensive review of all possible factors impacting on a child’s best interest will yield the most equitable results.

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