If a child’s parents do not live together, relocation can pose difficult problems related to custody and visitation. When one parent with primary custody relocates to another state, the move may affect the other parent’s ability to visit the child. In deciding whether to grant or deny a relocation request, Rhode Island courts often determine whether relocation is in the best interests of the child. A recent Rhode Island Supreme Court case shows how courts weigh the child’s best interests when evaluating a relocation request.
According to the facts discussed on the court’s decision, a mother sought to relocate with a child to another state. The mother and father, who never married, separated shortly after the child’s birth. The family court previously granted the mother temporary custody and physical possession, and it granted the father visitation. After being furloughed from her job, the mother relocated to Massachusetts to accept a new position and lived with her parents. As a result, the mother filed an emergency motion to permanently relocate to Massachusetts with the child. Later, she accepted a third position close to her parents’ home, which was nearly two hours from the father’s Rhode Island town. In her motion, she explained that she was previously paying $2,000 in rent in Rhode Island, commuting almost two hours to work, and working long hours. In Massachusetts, she could stay with her parents, reduce her living expenses, and rely on her parents for childcare assistance. The magistrate judge granted the mother’s motion to permanently relocate to Massachusetts, finding that relocation was in the best interests of the child. The father appealed to family court, which affirmed the decision. The father then appealed to the Rhode Island Supreme Court.
On appeal, the father argued that the primary reason the mother asserted for her relocation, her new job, was no longer valid since she accepted a third position. Therefore, the father suggested that the mother should have looked for new employment and housing closer to his Rhode Island home. The Rhode Island Supreme Court disagreed. The court concluded that the family court properly found no error with the magistrate’s decision. In reaching its conclusion, the court cited the mother’s desire to be closer to her parents and save costs on rent and childcare. The magistrate appropriately recognized the mother’s desire to prioritize her son’s emotion well-being and compensated for a loss of income to spend more time with him. By contrast, the father testified that he had no family in Rhode Island who provided additional daycare for the child. While the father offered the mother financial support and intended to change his work schedule to be a primary caregiver, the magistrate properly recognized that the mother had taken more action to make herself available for her son. Finally, the court noted that the family court record reflects the magistrate’s conclusion that the father’s relationship with his son will continue. Specifically, it explained that the mother was willing to make arrangements around the father’s work schedule and keep the father informed about the child’s medical appointments. Therefore, the court found that the family court did not err in affirming the magistrate’s decision to grant the relocation order based on the child’s best interests.