RELOCATING LAW UPDATE 2000
By Sari M. Friedman, Legal Counsel
Fathers' Rights Association (NYS & Long Island)
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 that, 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
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.
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.