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Relocations in Custody Battles and High-Conflict Divorce

How to Move On and Protect Yourself from Parental Alienation Claims

It’s normal when a relationship ends for people to be angry and upset. In most cases, these feelings tend to subside with time. As things begin to settle down, people generally find ways to work together to make sure the kids can get through this difficult transition as unscathed as possible.

But for those of us in high-conflict separation and divorce, it’s a whole other experience. Instead of being able to gradually move on with our lives, we find ourselves in prolonged chaos, with limited control over extraordinary legal costs, inundated with sleepless nights spent fearing for our children’s health and safety.

Often, one parent will want to move – sometimes far away. But when both adults involved don’t agree to the relocation, it can be very difficult.

California attorney Brian Pakpour shared some insight on why moving away with the kids can be tricky, what the court’s perspective may be, and what you need to do for the best chance at success. Here are excerpts from what he said during our live interview on this topic:

I get a lot of pushback from clients who either want to relocate or already have relocated. And they’re asking me all the time, Well, what do you mean that I have to give up so much time in the summer?

First, a lot depends, obviously, on other factors like domestic violence, the age of the children, children with special needs, and whether there are substance abuse issues.

But all things being equal, obviously one of you is going to be the school year parent. The other is going to get more of the summer, winter break, spring break, and some of the other long weekends. That’s the downtime.

But the client will say, “That’s the time I want, too. Or the winter break or Thanksgiving break or spring break. I want to have downtime, too.” And so it’s finding that medium between; obviously, you’re not going to give the other parent all of the downtime, but there’s going to be a significant portion because they don’t have any of the school year time.

[One of the factors that we know judges look at is what the other parent is going to do to encourage the relationship with the other parent. However it works out, you always want to make yourself appear reasonable. But that’s hard.]

It is hard. I’ve rarely seen a case where the judge says, “Okay, you have the school year and the other parent has them when school lets out.” Maybe they’ll say, “During the summer they can come to you for a couple of weeks, but the rest of it is with the other parent.” It really depends.

For winter break, oftentimes an easy thing to do is everybody gets a week and that’s usually fine. But for spring break, parents are like, “Well, I want to alternate that.” I’m like, “Yeah, but you know the other parent never sees the kids during the school year. Why wouldn’t you offer to have them have spring break every year? Like, that’s a huge, nice weeklong break a few months before summer starts and you have the kids all the time.”

So why wouldn’t you offer that up? And by not being able to give up a part of this stuff, the parent that’s leaving oftentimes seems so unreasonable that they’re really torpedoing their own relocation case.

[It seems like if someone’s not appearing reasonable, then that’s basically building a case against themself, allowing another parent to say, look, that person’s trying to alienate me from the kids. They already get them this much time of year. And then they won’t even let me have a little bit of time.]

When we do these cases in California, probably the most important factor that the court looks at maybe, not in every case, but very often is, which parent is more likely to encourage a relationship with the other parent?

If you’re the parent that is known for being somewhat alienating, known for maybe not connecting those phone calls at 6:00 that you’re supposed to do on Tuesdays and Thursdays, or coming up with an excuse necessarily not to complete the exchanges the way they’re supposed to, whatever technicality you can come up with, it doesn’t look good.

For example, Dad was 10 minutes late to the exchange, and so you canceled the whole weekend. You know, so whichever parent does those things when it’s time to relocate, the court’s like, “Yeah, but if I let you go, you know, 2000 miles away now, you’re really going to have your druthers to keep the other parent out of the child’s life. If you’ve already been doing it, then I really can’t trust that you’re going to stop.”

You need to engender the relationship instead of not connecting the call at 6:00. How about reminding your kid at 6:00 it’s time to call the other parent? And if the other parent is having transportation issues, how about calling them and saying, “Hey, how can we work around this to make sure that you have your time with the children?”

Are you that parent? Because if you are, your relocation is going to be a done deal.

[So, therefore, you have to present that kids deserve a strong, healthy bond with both parents. And that becomes an issue sometimes or all the time in an abuse case where someone will be like, But look at how bad that person was to me…I want to keep the kids away. But the stuff that happened between you isn’t going to matter as much when it comes to the parental rights to see the child on a regular basis unless there’s some proof of some egregious stuff which then could affect the case.]

That can be difficult to work around. There are a lot of other factors, so it’s not the only one. Probably the second biggest one is the reasons for that move, having good reasons why you want to relocate.

Is it for work? Is it because your spouse got a new job? A lot of people don’t have any support system here because they moved here for someone else’s work. And so they’re like, Well, I don’t have anybody here. I’m the primary parent. I need to be somewhere where, you know, Grandma is nearby, can help out. Those are all good reasons.

The worst thing is a “bad faith” move and the one set of words you never want to come out of your mouth to anyone is, “What I really want to do is just get this kid as far away from the other parent as possible.”

If I was your friend and we were in the bar talking about that, I might agree with you. I’d be like, I think you should get that kid as far away from that person as possibleThe problem is, if you send that to me in a text message that might be discoverable and I actually had a case a couple of years ago where the other person was able to gather through discovery messages that the mom had with her friends about the relocation.

And sure enough, that’s what she was saying in the relocation: “I just can’t stand this guy. I just want to raise this child on my own. I just don’t want his interference, etc.” And it was very clear that that was her purpose for the relocation. Like I said, she kind of torpedoed her case through all of this communication. So it has to be for the right reasons.

Like it or not, we have to realize that while involved in any kind of legal battle, we are going to be under what we call the “microscope” of the court, and must be very conscious of how we appear. The process of discovery and what can be used as evidence for most people.

This is why it’s so important to be aware of what factors the court is going to be considering for any significant decision. Remember that most people involved with your case – judges, custody evaluators, etc – will be listening to BOTH parties’ narratives, so it’s important that you are organized and prepared to present your side of the story – LONG before coming to court.

Note: This snippet is taken from our longer live interview, “How To Protect Yourself from Parental Alienation Claims When Dealing With a Toxic Ex: Parenting Plans, Relocations, and Legal Agreements with California Family Law Attorney, Brian Pakpour. This is part one of a two-part blog on this topic, and we’ll follow up with more on infants and parenting plans and more with Brian.

One of our missions at Been There Got Out is to help teach you how to present your case as powerfully as possible, so that you have the chance of the best outcome in family court and beyond. If you need help with your case, please reach out by scheduling a free discovery call (just click the top red button on our home page), or signing up for our Legal Abuse Support Group (that’s the bottom blue button!)

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