Imagine you are a divorced single parent living in Mesa, Arizona and you get a great job that provides you and your children a good living and benefits but would require you to move to Scottsdale (see Tiffany Fina Law). Although that is not terribly far away, the move would require you to move further away from your children’s other parent. Or, imagine after several years of being a single divorcee’ you meet your soulmate and decide to get married. Your new spouse has a great house and a great job in Glendale and you decide that you want to move to his or her house that will have plenty of room for you and your kids. Now imagine that before you can make that move you will have to get the permission of your ex-spouse to move further away from him or her or get a court order allowing you to make that move before you can move anywhere with your children, including across town! I see this issue all the time as a family law attorney in Mesa AZ all the time.
This seems absurd, right? If a proposed change to Arizona’s Parenting Time and Relocation statute are passed, that is exactly what you will have to do. Under Arizona’s current law, a parent cannot relocate a child more than 100 miles from the other parent without either obtaining consent of the other parent or obtaining a court order. In a previous blog, I discussed Arizona’s 100-mile rule and the procedures that need to be followed to relocate children more than 100 miles from the other parent. The proposed changes in the law would require the moving parent to give the non-moving parent sixty days notice of his/her intent to relocate the child/children. There is no limitation on how far away the moving parent intends to move before the sixty-day notification is required.
In my examples above, if a parent wants to move from Mesa to Scottsdale or from Mesa to Glendale, regardless of the reason, he or she must give the non-moving parent sixty days notice of his or her intent to move with the children. The parent will then be required to provide the reason for the move, but must also file a copy of the notice with the family court and provide the court a reason for the move. Following proper receipt of the notice, the non-moving parent would have thirty days to object to the move. This also would require the filing of an objection with the court. If an objection with the court is filed by the non-moving parent, the moving parent then has to file a Petition to Relocate and the court gets to decide.
As with most statutory changes, there are pros and cons. Here, the clear design of the proposed changes is to make sure that non-moving parent’s parenting rights (including visitation) are disturbed as little as possible; at least not without the non-moving parent having a say in the decision to relocate. There are some good reasons for this. For example, a move across town can have implications for things such as parenting time and participation in activities by the non-moving parent. A trip across the Phoenix metro area can take an hour or more each way. This time can seriously impact a visitation schedule that involves one-week night per week with the non-custodial parent. It can affect the non-moving parent’s ability to take part in school events or extracurricular activities. The proposed changes favor a non-custodial parent’s rights and ability to participate as much as possible in the parenting of the children.
In this case, however, I think the negatives outweigh the positives. For one thing, the proposed statutory changes may limit natural life changes that can benefit the children. A mother who is struggling to provide for her children may find it cost prohibitive to spend two hours per day traveling across town for work. It may prohibit mothers and fathers from getting remarried, which in some instances can be a tremendous benefit to the children. Imagine finding Mr. or Mrs. right and telling them that you can only marry them if they agree to live near your ex. I think the most troubling possibility is that it places an ex in a position of power. I have had had many cases involving bitter ex-spouses who would love nothing more than to make life difficult for their ex-husband or wife. Here, a move even a few blocks or miles away would require the consent of the ex-spouse. An ex-spouse, who for no other reason than to be spiteful, could easily refuse consent and then the whole matter would have to go through the court system costing thousands of dollars. Moreover, the family court system does not always move quickly. In some cases, waiting for a court decision on relocation is not practical and could result in lost opportunity.
I think the 100-mile rule is as reasonable a solution to the problem of relocation as currently exists. Although a move across town may be inconvenient for the non-moving parent, it can be workable. Perhaps changes that require the moving spouse to incur more of the inconvenience, such as transportation to the non-moving spouse for parenting time would be more reasonable. I think there are a number of other solutions to the problem of protecting a non-moving parent’s visitation time than potentially locking a single parent into a geographical location that only benefits one person (the non-moving parent) in the family.
In my opinion, the proposed statutory changes have the potential to create far more problems than they solve. In the long run, SB 1072 will likely result in more fights, more legal expenses, and more court costs. I encourage anyone who may be affected by these statutory changes to make sure their state representatives know how you feel about these proposed changes. If you would like to review the text of the proposed changes to the statute, you can view them here.