Often, in our increasingly mobile society, people want to relocate after a divorce. The issue becomes more complicated where children are involved.
South Carolina Code § 63-3-530(3) provides that a family court may not issue an order that prohibits a custodial parent from moving his residence to a location within the State unless the court finds a compelling reason to do so or unless the parties have agreed to such a prohibition. However, this does not mean that a custodial parent who wishes to move within the State will always win. In fact, the South Carolina Supreme Court in Davis v. Davis, 356 S.C. 132, 588 S.E.2d 102 (2003) used the mother’s intention to relocate from Aiken to Beaufort to be a determining factor in awarding the father custody of the parties’ children.
If the parties have already been divorced, the Court will first look to the Court’s prior Order to determine whether the custodial parent is prohibited from moving outside the State without permission of the other parent or in the absence of a court order allowing the move. If there is a restriction against relocation by the custodial parent in the prior court order, the moving parent must establish not only that there has been a significant change of circumstances but also that relocation is in the children’s best interests.
Further, relocation, standing alone, is not considered a substantial change in circumstances affecting the welfare of the child which justifies a change in custody. See Latimer v. Farmer, 360 S.C. 375, 605 S.E.2d 32 (2004). “Relocation is one factor in considering a change of circumstances, but is not alone a sufficient change in circumstances. One location may not necessarily affect the best interests of the child as would another.” Id.
The Court must consider a number of factors in determining whether a child’s best interests are served by allowing a relocation. These include: (a) the parties’ reasons for seeking or opposing the move; (b) the quality of the child’s relationship with each of the parties; (c) the extent to which visitation rights have historically been allowed and exercised; (d) the impact of the move on the quality of the child’s future contact with the non-custodial parent; (e) the degree to which the move would enhance the child’s and relocating parent’s economic, emotional, and educational circumstances; (f) “the feasibility of preserving the relationship between the noncustodial parent and the child through suitable visitation arrangements”; (g) whether the relocating parent is likely to abide by court orders regarding alternate visitation arrangements; (h) the cost of transportation; and (i) whether the move is in the child’s best interests. Id.