RELOCATING LAW UPDATE 2000
By Sari M. Friedman, General Counsel
Fathers Rights Association, LI and NYS
A major fear in most divorce cases is that the custodial parent will relocate and therefore make it increasingly difficult for the non-custodial parent to see his or her children as often as they might prefer. Two years ago, we wrote an article on major changes brought about by Tropea v. Tropea. In our current article, we would like to examine what has happened since the ruling in that case changed the standards upon which court decisions are made.
Quick Review of Tropea v. Tropea
Before the Tropea decision, the court considered a variety of factors in ruling on relocation requests. Things became quite chaotic because there was no way to know in advance what factors would be considered in determining whether to grant relocation. Tropea was to change all that by setting one overriding standard, i.e. Is the move in the best interests of the child? That means when you go to court concerning a relocation request, you know you must be prepared to show why the move is or is not the right thing for your child. That allows the court to get directly to the point. Four Years Later, Did Tropea Accomplish Its Goal? The biggest concern has been that the Tropea decision would make it easier for parents to receive permission to relocate. But that is not necessarily what happened. What it did do, it seems, was make for fairer judgments, and perhaps, it even encouraged, in some indirect way, better parenting. Let's look at some decisions made in the year 2000.
Thomas v. Thomas - In this instance, the father lived one and a half hours away from mother and child when the mother requested the Court to allow her to move to Massachusetts. There, she would live with her mother who could provide help and medical care for the child. The mother offered to bring the child to a closer location on visiting day so that the father would still not have to travel more than one and a half hours. The Court ruled in her favor, balancing the fact that the father's access would not be significantly more difficult while the mother would now have help with childcare. The Court concluded, the move was in the best interests of the child.
Salichs v. James - The mother requested permission to relocate to Puerto Rico. The request was denied. Why? Because the mother, an attorney with a good proven career track record, could find a job anywhere. She did not have to go to Puerto Rico to find work. At the same time, the father, a work at HOME architect, had assumed many primary care functions. He picked up and dropped the child off at school, arranged dates, and exercised his alternate weekend visitation rights, including some weekday afternoons. The Court believed it is in the best interests of the child to have access to both parents as proscribed in the original custody agreement.
Bodrato v. Biggs - The mother requested permission to relocate from upstate New York to New Jersey. The Court granted the request concerned less for the reasons for relocation, but more with the father's inappropriate behavior. The mother was able to show that the father's HOME was unclean, that he was A drug and alcohol abuser, and sold drugs out of his apartment. In addition to granting permission for relocation, the Court changed The original joint custody decision, granting sole custody to the mother.
Satalino v. Satalino - In this case, the mother was allowed to relocate five hours from the couple's original HOME in Albany, New York because the father, who had an alcohol problem, had not exercised his visitation rights with any regularity. At the same time, the mother's fiance would find it difficult to continue his kind of work in Albany. It made sense for the mother to make the move and it appeared to the Court to be in the best interests of the child.
Hrusovsky v. Benjamin - Mother requested relocation to Virginia where She and her new husband found work and wanted to settle. The father worked at a bar owned by the family. He had little time for the child and, on occasion, the child was witness to inappropriate incidents at the bar. The court ruled relocation to be in the best interests of the child and granted the mother's request.
Conclusion Has Tropea made it easier to get permission to relocate? Perhaps it has, but it's really up to you. Non-custodial parents who exercise their visitation rights regularly and maintain an appropriate environment for their children need not be concerned. The Court is not disposed to remove a child from its parent without a good and compelling reason.