When a couple separates, a court will determine a child custody arrangement. Sometimes one parent needs to relocate out of state, but Indiana has very strict requirements before a court will permit a parent to move out of state with the child. The state Supreme Court upheld those strict standards in January 2007.
Indiana courts use the "best interests of the child" standard. Several factors are examined to determine whether joint or sole custody is appropriate and which parent is better suited to serve as primary custodian. First, the child's preference is important. Additionally, the court will consider the child's sex and age, as well as the parents' age and health and how they may affect their ability to care for the child. The court will also look at each parent's relationship with the child and whether there is any history of child abuse or domestic violence.
If the court plans to award joint custody, it is also important to look at whether the parents will be able to cooperate in raising the child, the distance between each parent's residence and whether either parent plans to relocate. (Reference 2)
Baxendale v. Raich
The U.S. Constitution grants all individuals the right to travel freely throughout the U.S. However, according to Baxendale v. Raich, decided in January 2007, the right to travel may be limited. The Indiana Supreme Court held that a mother who chose to obtain employment out of state could not relocate with her child over the father's objection. Instead, the custody order was modified and the father was granted physical custody. The mother still had the opportunity for frequent contact with the child, but the court refused to disrupt the child's education and relationships with other family and friends.
Anytime a parent intends to relocate, especially when the move is out of state, that parent must notify both the other parent and the court that issued the initial custody order. Under Indiana law, notice must be served no later than 90 days prior to the move to allow the other parent the opportunity to file a motion of objection. The parent planning to relocate must prove that the move is necessary and is in good faith, not simply just to prevent the other parent from seeing the child. The parent objecting to the move must then show that relocation is not in the child's best interests.
A court will consider: how far the new residence will be from the other parent's home, whether the parent, as well as the grandparents, ill still be able to have meaningful visitation with the child, whether the parent or grandparents will suffer financial hardship in attempting to have visitation with the child, the reasons for the relocation, the other parent's reasons for objecting to the move; and whether the relocation is an attempt to keep the child from the other parent.
If a court finds that the relocation is unnecessary or that the child would suffer as a result of the relocation, the court will grant the objecting parent's motion to prevent relocation. If the other parent still chooses to move out of state, the custody order will be modified to change physical custody to the parent remaining in Indiana.