Many people are on the lookout for a new or different job. The reasons vary, whether it’s higher pay, increased recognition, or more predictable or flexible hours. Some people are ready to change careers completely or to start over in a new place.
Unsurprisingly, many of these people are parents. These job-seeking parents are often looking for ways to better the lives of their families, especially their children. But for those parents who share custody, how will moving affect their custody arrangements? Read on to find out.
A Review of How Custody Orders Are Modified
You’ll remember that child custody can be decided by agreement or by the court. If parents reach an agreed custody arrangement, they may leave that as a private contract between themselves. If so, future changes are also up to the parents to resolve between themselves. In the alternative, parents who reach an agreement may ask the court to enter it as a consent custody order.
If the parents fail to agree on custody, the court can hear the case and reach its own decision about what is in the best interests of the children. In that case, the court will again memorialize its decision as an order.
Once a court order for custody is entered, regardless of whether it is reached by consent or by the court, the parents must file a motion to modify the order to change its terms. Again, such a modification can be made by agreement or decided by the court.
Remember that when the court makes the decision, it follows a two-part test:
- Has a substantial change of circumstances affecting the welfare of the children occurred since the entry of the last order?
- If a substantial change of circumstances has occurred, what is in the children’s best interests given those new circumstances?
As with all child custody decisions, courts decide whether relocation for a new job warrants modification of an existing custody order on a case-by-case basis. Every situation is different, so your case will be judged based on its specific facts.
Benefits of a Job Change
Usually, a voluntary job change will be accompanied by improvements in the parent’s quality or standard of living.
Some parents have jobs that require them to work second shift, so they’re never at home in the evenings with their children. Some parents have to put in 60 or more hours a week to meet deadlines or earn enough money. Those long hours often mean they have less time at home with the children and miss the most basic of activities, such as family dinner or a bedtime story.
Some parents have jobs that require them to travel or endure a long commute; others have low-paying jobs and thus struggle to make ends meet each month.
Whatever the reason, for some parents, a new job can bring great benefits to their children and families. Less travel or fewer hours in the office can allow for extra time each day or week with the children. Higher pay makes it much easier to provide clothes, food, health care, school supplies, and other essentials for the children.
However, for parents who live apart from their co-parents, whether they were never married or have divorced, getting a new job could pose a problem.
When a Change in Jobs Demands Relocation
What if that great new job, the one with extra pay or fewer hours, also requires the parent to move several hours away or out of state? The extra pay or decreased hours certainly could benefit the children, but how does a proposed relocation affect custody?
Because these situations have so many possible permutations, let’s look at three separate examples of parents who need their custody arrangements modified because of their new jobs.
A New Job With Fewer Hours
Our first couple, Adam and Andrea, had three school-aged children when they separated. Adam is a cardiologist at the hospital in Asheville, and Andrea is a local real estate agent. Throughout their marriage, Adam has always had an irregular work schedule that is largely out of his control, while Andrea has always had flexible hours.
LONG AND UNPREDICTABLE HOURS AT THE PREVIOUS JOB
At the hospital, Adam works 12-hour shifts four days a week, not counting the time he is on call. Sometimes those 12-hour days turn into 16-hour days. When he is on call, days off can turn into workdays. Some weeks Adam works during the day, while others he works nights. Every now and then, he has to work on a holiday.
Adam and Andrea have been separated and divorced for two years. Soon after their separation, they entered into a consent court order that laid out their custody terms.
Since Adam worked so many hours and had an unpredictable schedule, he was not able to commit to much time with his three children. As the children are getting older, Adam is tired of missing out on their lives.
NEW JOB HAS SHORTER, PREDICTABLE HOURS
After a thorough job search, Adam has been offered a full-time position with East Carolina University’s medical school as a professor and research director in cardiology. However, this position will require Adam to relocate from Asheville to Greenville, which is five hours away at the opposite end of the state.
The upside to Adam’s new position is that he will now be working only during traditional business hours: no more 16-hour days, no more working through the night, and no more weekends stuck in the hospital. Perhaps best of all, he won’t have to work on holidays.
This new position will provide Adam much more flexibility for spending time with his children. However, Adam is concerned about how the relocation will affect the custody order that he and Andrea have in place.
Adam and Andrea cannot agree on a solution, so Adam files a motion asking the court to modify the custody order.
Adam knows that to modify his custody order, there must be a substantial change of circumstances—something big enough that it affects the children’s well-being. He also knows that he must show the judge that his relocation would benefit the children and that there is a direct link between the relocation and the benefit.
THERE IS A SUBSTANTIAL CHANGE IN CIRCUMSTANCES
In this case, the judge determined that Adam’s new job and subsequent relocation constitutes a substantial change of circumstances affecting the well-being of the three children.
Adam’s home will now be far from Andrea’s, but his work schedule will go from hectic and unpredictable to the exact opposite: reliable and predictable. This will allow Adam to spend significantly more time with the children.
THE CHANGE IS BENEFICIAL TO THE CHILDREN
Not only is the new job and relocation a substantial change of circumstances, but it also positively affects the well-being of Adam and Andrea’s three children. In short, Adam’s relocation for this new job would benefit all three children.
While working at the hospital, Adam frequently had to miss holidays, birthdays, parent-teacher conferences, baseball games, and even vacations with the children. His new job will allow him to plan for and partake in all of these events. Instead of the children spending a single day here or there with Adam, they will now be able to spend many consecutive days with him. This could mean visiting over various weekends, spending half of Christmas break with him, and enjoying several weeks together in the summer. Adam will now be able to spend time with the children on holidays and even take them on vacations in the summer.
This time will give the kids an opportunity to strengthen their critical relationship with their father.
THE COURT MODIFIES THE CUSTODY ORDER
Overall, the new job is a win for the kids. They will be able to gain significant quality time with Adam that they could never have while he was in his hospital job. Even though he will live farther away from their residence with Andrea, he will be able to plan for visits and devote more time to the children.
Adam has successfully shown the judge that his new job and relocation are a substantial change of circumstances that positively affects the well-being of the children. Therefore, the court agrees to modify the custody order.
A New Job With Higher Pay
John and Jackie have been separated and divorced for five years. They have two children, who are 13 and 11. John lives in Raleigh and works in the IT field; Jackie lives in Charlotte and works at her family’s restaurant.
According to their custody order, the children reside with John when school is in session. They travel to Charlotte to stay with Jackie whenever school is out.
Since they’ve had the custody order in place, Jackie has canceled some of the children’s visits with her. She has not stayed up to date with the children’s academic progress or with their routine medical appointments and needs.
JOHN IS LAID OFF
Last month, John found out he was being laid off by his company at the end of the month. This meant the income he has been comfortable with—the money that has helped support his two children—would end. He, like all of us, has bills to pay and mouths to feed.
John immediately started a job search. Within just three weeks, he received an offer for a different type of IT job. However, this new position would require him to relocate to the company’s national headquarters in Florida.
PROSPECTS FOR THE NEW JOB
Despite the relocation, the new job promised some great advantages.
John’s salary would immediately increase by $20,000 annually. Health insurance benefits for himself and the children would be less expensive. The new job even promised regular promotions to managerial positions in the years to come—meaning more pay raises.
However, it would impossible for the children to see Jackie as often as they have. In North Carolina, John and Jackie only live about three hours apart. The distance from Florida would be too great to continue regular visits without putting a strain on the children.
Jackie doesn’t want John to take the children with him to Florida. They are familiar with her home in Charlotte, and they get to see many of her family members, who live nearby.
John needs a job, and this one offers beneficial prospects for John and his career. He files a motion to modify the custody order.
THERE IS A SUBSTANTIAL CHANGE OF CIRCUMSTANCES
A move to Florida, plus the potential advancement opportunities for John’s career, would mean a substantial change of circumstances affecting the well-being of John and Jackie’s children.
John’s salary would significantly increase, he would have health insurance for the children, and he would have the possibility of career advancement.
All of these factors would affect the well-being of the children. John’s ability to provide for his children financially would improve. The children would have access to private health insurance. As John’s career advanced, he would be better able to keep up with increases in the costs of the children’s educational and extracurricular activities.
THE CHANGE BENEFITS THE CHILDREN
Overall, John and Jackie’s children would benefit from John’s new job, despite the relocation and missed visits.
John’s higher salary would ensure that the children’s needs were well provided for, including food, clothing, and school supplies. The kids would also benefit from affordable health-care options. Plus, as John’s salary increased, the children would be able to participate in extracurricular activities that come at a cost to parents.
Although John and Jackie have always been able to provide for the children, John’s increased earning potential provides extra assurance that the children will be well taken care of. Because Jackie hasn’t taken full advantage of her custodial role, her arguments about the distance reducing her visitation are less effective. All told, John’s new job seems to be a win-win situation for the children.
THE COURT MODIFIES THE CUSTODY ORDER
The judge finds that a substantial change in circumstances affecting the well-being of the children has occurred. He also finds that this change would benefit the children.
Again, Jackie has missed custodial periods with the children and has not kept herself informed about their general welfare. Therefore, moving with John would be in the best interests of the children.
John’s new job with higher pay puts the children in a better position to flourish despite the decrease in visitation with Jackie. In total, it is appropriate to modify the custody order, and the court does.
A New Job With Different Hours
Harold and Hannah never married but had one child together, a little girl who is now nine years old. A consent custody order has been in place since their daughter was six months old.
The custody order gave Harold and Hannah equal custody. They have always operated under a 2-2-3 schedule: Hannah has their daughter on Mondays and Tuesdays, Harold has Wednesdays and Thursdays, and they alternate three-day weekends.
Harold, a pharmacist, has always worked traditional business hours at a small, independently owned pharmacy. Hannah, a nurse at a pediatrician’s office, also keeps a reliable schedule with standard hours.
A JOB CHANGE IS NEEDED
The economy has begun to affect the small pharmacy where Harold works. The owners have talked about closing it. So, Harold begins to look for a new job that would provide better long-term stability and advance his career path.
After months of searching, he decides to accept a job at a major national pharmacy chain.
The new job promises Harold increased pay and great benefits. Unfortunately, he will have to relocate to the next county, a little over an hour away. He will also have to work more irregular hours. His new schedule will have him working every other weekend and until 10:00 some nights.
Harold believes that he can arrange his new work schedule so that he is off on the days and nights that he has his daughter. He also plans to alternate his work weekends with her weekends.
However, if his daughter stays with Harold in his new location, she would then have an hour-long drive to and from school. Harold thinks this inconvenience would be offset by his ability to earn a greater salary with better benefits.
Hannah does not agree with putting their daughter on the road so much. She believes that the extra hour commuting would cut into their daughter’s time for homework, extracurricular and social activities, and a good night’s sleep.
THIS IS NOT A SUBSTANTIAL CHANGE OF CIRCUMSTANCES
In this situation, there is not a substantial change of circumstances affecting the well-being of Harold and Hannah’s daughter.
First, note that the current custody arrangement can still be followed. While Harold will spend more time driving, he will not live so far away or work such long hours that he cannot keep his end of the agreement.
Second, while their daughter will be on the road more frequently, there is no evidence that this would negatively affect her. Hannah makes good points that the additional driving time would cut into the time available for schoolwork and extracurricular activities. Still, nothing suggests that this would be a disservice to her.
There are no indications that the child cannot continue to flourish academically or participate in her current extracurricular activities. Despite the increased and nontraditional work hours, Harold can arrange his schedule so it has little or no impact on his time with his daughter.
For these reasons, it would be inappropriate to modify Harold and Hannah’s custody order.
What Happens If You Have to Relocate for a New Job?
It depends! Each situation is different. As with all family law matters, the court will determine whether to modify its custody order for your new job by considering the specific circumstances of your family. These decisions are always made on a case-by-case basis, as each family is unique.
As the above examples illustrate, two rules hold fast, regardless of the situation. First, the new job must create a substantial change in circumstances. And, of course, any modification based on the new job must serve the best interests of the children.