Utah law governing parental relocation requests with minor children

The court must decide if moving away with one parent is in the child’s best interest.

Our society is a mobile one and that fact can have substantial impact on children when their parents have divorced. When a divorced parent wants to relocate with a minor child of the marriage, Utah law sets out specific procedures and standards for the parties and the court to follow.

Relocation requests can be complex and are fact-specific to each case, so it is smart for any Utah parent seeking to relocate, or opposing such a desire by the other parent, to get legal representation as soon as the issue arises. Having an experienced lawyer on board early will help the parties comply with the requirements of the law as well as protect their legal rights. Legal counsel will also advocate for the client's position, including gathering and presenting all relevant evidence that would affect the court's decision as to whether the move would be in the child's best interest.

The Utah relocation statute

Utah law requires that when a parent wants to relocate more than 150 miles from the home of the other parent with a minor child of the marriage, the parent seeking to move give the other parent 60 days written notice of the planned move. Failure to provide this notice constitutes contempt of court. Either parent or the court may ask for a hearing on the relocation request.

The crux of the judge's decision whether to allow the relocation is whether it would be in the child's best interest. The court may consider any relevant factor in this determination. Should the judge decide that relocation would not be in the child's best interest, if the custodial parent still insists on moving, the court may order a change in custody such as by increasing the custodial rights of the parent who is not moving to accommodate the child remaining with that parent.

Visitation after relocation

If the judge allows the relocation, visitation and transportation costs will likely need to be determined for the new long-distance relationship with the parent left behind. In doing so, the court must look at:

  • The reason for the move
  • Additional challenge or cost to either parent in exercising visitation
  • Each parent's financial resources
  • Anything else that is relevant or necessary for consideration

The statute sets out minimum requirements for parenting time for kids aged five to 18 unless the court orders a different schedule. These minimum requirements logically involve times a child would visit the other parent long distance like holidays, school breaks, summers and weekends.

For kids younger than five, the judge has more discretion to arrange the visitation schedule, but must look at:

  • The child's age
  • The child's developmental needs
  • The distance that must be traveled
  • Traveling arrangements and costs
  • The "level of attachment" between the young child and the parent left behind
  • Anything else relevant to the child's best interest

This is an introduction to a complicated area of Utah family law that applies to a situation likely to bring up difficult emotions for all parties involved. It is advised that anyone facing the relocation issue consult a lawyer about his or her rights and responsibilities.