Assessing the Best Interests of the Children When Considering a Request for Relocation

When a court considers a parent’s wish to relocate the children’s residence and a parenting plan will be affected, it looks to the statutory requirements of General Statutes § 46b-56d: whether the move is for a legitimate purpose, the location is legitimate in light of this purpose, and relocation is in the best interests of the children. Subsection (b) of the statute outlines five non-exclusive factors a court will consider when answering the third part of its inquiry:

  • The reasons each party opposes or seeks relocation.
  • The quality of the relationship each party has with the child.
  • The impact of relocation on the quantity and quality of the child’s future contact with the non-relocating parent.
  • The degree to which the life of the relocating parent and child is enhanced socially, economically, and educationally as a result of the relocation.
  • Whether it is feasible that the relationship between the non-relocating parent and child will be preserved.

Even if a party establishes that the purpose for and location of the move is legitimate, their request to relocate will be denied if the court finds that it is not in the best interests of the children to do so. All three statutory criteria must be satisfied.

Five years ago, the Superior Court of Connecticut, Judicial District of Stamford-Norwalk at Stamford ruled on a matter involving one parent’s request to relocate with her minor children to Vermont. That case, Frostmann v. Frostmann, 2007 Conn. Super. 3411, is particularly notable in light of the court’s careful, detailed analysis of whether the move would be in the best interests of the children.

Following dissolution of her marriage and the establishment of a parenting plan, the mother wished to relocate with her two minor children from her residence in Old Greenwich to Vermont. She explained that she grew up in Vermont and had an affinity for rural life, in stark contrast to the culture in Greenwich. The mother sought to develop farmland acreage in hopes of becoming financially independent, and even had initial engineering plans drawn up. The values and lifestyle in Vermont would not only make her happier, but also would be more suitable for her children and their needs. The mother provided a parenting plan schedule that afforded more time to the father than in the present plan, and consistently kept the father up-to-date on all major and many minor events in their children’s lives.

The father staunchly opposed the move, arguing that because the “dailiness” of involvement with his children would be disrupted, his relationship with them would be adversely affected. In addition, the father personally knew what it was like to be relocated with a parent and the attendant pain inflicted, and did not want his children to suffer the same.

The court readily found that the mother had legitimate purposes for the move, and the location was appropriate in light of these purposes. In their written opinion, the court extensively covers each of the five factors considered in assessing the best interests of the children. It first credited the reasons the mother sought relocation and the father’s relocations for opposition. The court then determined that the children had strong relationships with each parent, and that the relocation would not prove destructive to the children’s relationship with the father. It pointed to the mother’s extensive efforts to keep the father involved and informed, as well as daily phone calls when the children do not see their father.

The court admitted that the distance from the father’s home in Greenwich to Vermont was significant, just shy of 200 miles. However, a schedule could be imposed to ensure that the quantity of contact between the father and his children would remain unaffected. Considering the fourth factor, there was little dispute that the mother would be enhanced emotionally and potentially financially with the move. The children were happy with life in Vermont, and the based on testimony before the court, it believed that the children would thrive there. Finally, the court noted that it was highly feasible that the relationship between the father and his children would remain intact, referencing the mother’s proposed, and generous, parenting schedule. Her conduct proved her to be seeking to enhance the relationship between the father and children.

Whether advancing or defending a motion seeking custody, visitation, and child support, a divorced parent is best served by consulting with an experienced family law practitioner. Should you have questions regarding matrimonial matters, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County at 203-221-3100 or JMaya@mayalaw.com.
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