In many Massachusetts divorce and parenting cases, parents find themselves at odds with each other regarding parenting plans and what they consider “is best” for the children. For example, a mother may feel that she should have sole physical custody of the children, whereas the father feels that he should have full custody. Even though both parties claim that they know what is best for the child, emotion, fear, and anxiety may cloud their judgment. In these high-conflict cases, the court must step in and make neutral, objective judgments regarding the best interests of the children. In order to assist the court in this process, it may appoint a Guardian ad litem to conduct an investigation and make recommendations.
In some cases, however, the court must apply a different, heightened standard when deciding what is best for the children. For example, one issue that one or both of the parties may raise in a divorce or parenting case (or in a subsequent modification action) includes a request seeking court permission to move to another state. This is known as removal action. Removal to another state may significantly affect all involved parties, including both parents and the children. As a result, the court does not take a removal request lightly; and it applies the “Real Advantage Test” in deciding whether to permit or prohibit a removal. This intricate test examines more than just the best interests of the children.
The Real Advantage Test evaluates the following four categories:
- Whether the proposed move is for a good, true, sincere reason
- Is the proposed move for a legitimate reason and not simply to spite the other parent?
- The interests of the children
- Will the children’s quality of life improve at the new location?
- How will the proposed move affect the children emotionally, developmentally, and physically?
- Is there a good educational opportunity for the children in the new location? Is that opportunity better than what they have in Massachusetts?
- Is there a medical reason for the move? (e.g., is a warmer climate better for the children’s health, as specified by a physician?)
- The interests of the custodial parent who seeks to move
- Does the proposed move provide measurable, relative advantages for the custodial parent?
- What is the motive for the proposed move?
- What are the financial benefits, social benefits, educational benefits, etc.?
- Is the custodial parent seeking to relocate due to a spouse’s situation?
- Is there an advantageous job opportunity at the proposed location? Does the current employer want the parent to move?
- Is there a home waiting for the children at the new location?
- Does the parent have medical reasons for the move?
- The interests of the noncustodial parent who will remain in Massachusetts
- If the court allows the removal, will alternative, reasonable visitation arrangements be possible? Who will pay for any resulting travel of the noncustodial parent necessitated by the move?
- Will there be a possible adverse effect on the relationship between the children and the parent who remains in Massachusetts?
Each removal case is very fact specific; and the court must analyze a number of factors before deciding on the issue. In many cases, there is no truly “right” answer. If you are considering relocating to another state with your children; or if your children’s other parent has raised to you the issue of relocation, it is very important to work with a family law attorney experienced in handling these matters. Attorney Rosanne Klovee has this experience. Contact her office today to discuss your specific situation.