In years past, it has been a common practice to include provisions in child custody agreements stating that each parent of a child must gain the other’s approval before moving a certain distance away from one another. At first glance, this may seem like a reasonable request. And if neither party has any desire to move away from a small, local set of friends or family, such an agreement is no hardship. However, our society has become increasingly mobile. Every day, millions of people commute to work, often in different cities from where we live. It’s no longer unusual for ordinary people to rack up hundreds, often thousands of frequent flier miles within the course of a year. And in a depressed economy where jobs are scarce, more and more people are forced to relocate to ensure their employment for the continued well-being of their children.
Therefore, in light of our society’s technological advances in the field of travel, it has become impractical to place restrictions on mobility and travel in child custody agreements. Courts across the country and in Mississippi have found such restrictions to be not only impractical, but also unconstitutional.
In Bell v. Bell, the Mississippi Supreme Court refused to enforce an agreement between parents stating that their children be reared in a specific community. The right to travel is specifically granted in the Constitution, so it violates a person’s constitutional rights if an agreement prohibits their mobility.
When a custodial parent relocates and puts large distances between the non-custodial parent and child, many times the knee jerk reaction is to seek a custody modification. A change in the visitation schedule may be necessary to ensure that a child continues to see his or her parents in a fair approximation of an original custody agreement. But with the new case law in place, a custodial parent’s relocation is insufficient grounds for modification of child custody.
Although it has been ruled unconstitutional to restrict a custodial parent’s relocation, the important thing to remember is that family courts always consider what is in the best interests of the child. The court system encourages parents to cooperate with one another, and to remember to look out for a child’s best interests as well, when making the difficult decision of any relocation.