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Your divorce has been settled and you have relaxed into a respectful co-parenting routine with your former spouse. After about a year, your former partner announces plans to move several hours away with the children. You currently share joint physical custody are rightfully concerned about how the distance will affect your relationship with your children.

Fortunately, parents have recourse in California when the other parent plans a significant move. These are the steps to assert your legal rights.

Understanding the best-interest standard

If the child’s other parent has sole physical custody, he or she can move with the child at any time unless your custody agreement states otherwise. With joint physical custody, however, the parent who plans to move must prove to the court that doing so is in the child’s best interest. The judge will consider the current relationship with both parents, the current custody and visitation schedule, both parents’ ability to care for the child, the child’s wishes and other factors specific to your situation.

Challenging the motion to modify custody

Whenever a parent is moving in California, he or she must file a motion to change the custody agreement to accommodate the move. You can either challenge this motion in court or file a motion for sole physical custody to prevent the move.

When you have joint custody, the judge will make this decision based on the child’s best interest as described above. If the other parent has sole physical custody, you must show the court that the move would harm the child’s best interests.

If your child’s other parent has mentioned a move, read your custody agreement closely to determine next steps. When you prefer to avoid a court hearing about this issue, you may be able to reach a new parenting agreement through mediation. However, highly contested moves are typically decided by the judge and are subject to his or her discretion in the absence of clear-cut state guidelines.