Relocating with Children

Parental Relocation in Northern Virginia

Parents who divorce in Northern Virginia dissolve their marriage and begin to live separate lives. Those who have children, despite the agreed-upon or litigated custodial arrangements, remain co-parents forever, despite the end of the husband-wife relationship. This brings many challenges, especially when spouses look to move on with their lives after divorce and perhaps seek a new beginning in a different geographic location. When children are involved, this raises the issue of parental relocation – permission from the other parent or a court is usually required. Whether you are the custodial parent or not, relocating with your child without these permissions can trigger serious consequences – in some cases even criminal charges for parental kidnapping or abduction.

mom playing with kids in boxes

Why Do I Need Permission?

While you or your spouse are free to move anywhere you wish, such is not the case if you want to take the children along with you. Courts in Northern Virginia cannot tell you where to live, but they have the jurisdiction to decide where your children will live. If there is a custody order in place, before you move, you must petition the court for a modification in custody. In order to modify a custody decree and permit a parent to relocate with a child, the court must find that (1) a material change in circumstance has occurred since the last order and (2) that relocation is in the child’s best interests. As mentioned above, even if you do not have a custody order, court permission is typically required prior to parental relocation with a child. If you are considering moving from your residence with your children or your spouse is moving away with your children, speak with an experienced Northern Virginia family lawyer early in the process to determine what legal remedies are available to you.

Material Change in Circumstances

Courts have considered a parent’s pending relocation as a material change in circumstances which allows a party to petition for a modification in custody. The material change in circumstances consideration is a broad one—but you must show that relocation is in your child’s best interests. Material change in circumstances can be change of job, economic circumstances, issues related to mental health, substance abuse, or almost anything that bears on your child’s best interests. Note that if you do not have a court order, there is no need to show a change of circumstances for a custody determination by a court in Northern Virginia.

Best Interests of the Child

Once you’ve shown that you have a material change in circumstances as to modify custody, or it is determined that you do not need to show a material change in circumstances, you must then convince the judge that changing custody would be in the best interest of the child(ren). The “best interests of the child” standard is a statutory standard, which includes a myriad of factors such as the roles the parents play in the child’s life, preference of the child, needs and relationships of the child, and the age of the child, among others. The court has a large amount of discretion in applying the various factors. An experienced child custody attorney will be best able to consider your circumstances and advocate on your behalf to present to a judge how your relocation would be in the best interests of your child(ren).


Before you move with your children, seek the advice of an experienced family law attorney. Relocating without the proper court approval could mean adverse legal consequences for you and your family, including being charged with parental kidnapping.

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