Relocation of Children After Divorce and Children’s Best Interests:
New Evidence and Legal Considerations
Sanford L. Braver
Arizona State University
Ira M. Ellman
Arizona State University and
University of California, Berkeley
William V. Fabricius
Arizona State University
Relocation cases, in which a divorced parent seeks to move away with the child, are among
the knottiest problems facing family courts. The recent trend is to permit such moves, largely
because of Wallerstein’s (1995) controversial
brief, which a recent court
Baures v. Lewis,
2001) interpreted as supporting the conclusion that “in general, what is
good for the custodial parent is good for the child” (p. 222). The current study provides the
first direct evidence on relocation by dividing college students into groups on the basis of their
divorced parents’ move-away status. On most child outcomes, the ones whose parents moved
are significantly disadvantaged. This suggests courts should give greater weight to the child’s
separate interests in deciding such cases.
Americans are a mobile people for whom moving is a
relatively common experience. According to 2000 U.S.
Census data, between March 1997 and March 1998, 16% of
all Americans moved (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2000).
About 43% of the movers left for a different metropolitan
statistical area. The adults most likely to move are those
between 20 and 34 years old, ages at which they are likely
to have young children.
Undoubtedly for that reason, chil-
dren are, on average, more likely to move than are adults.
Between March 1997 and March 1998, 23.5% of all chil-
dren between 1 and 4 years of age moved. Children between
5 and 6 moved at an annual rate of 17.9%. Rates for older
children were a bit lower.
People appear especially likely to move after their mar-
riage fails. Ford (1997) showed that within 4 years of
separation and divorce, about one fourth of mothers with
custody move to a new location. In Braver and O’Connell’s
(1998) data set, 3% of the custodial parents who could be
located moved out of the area within 12 weeks of the
divorce filing, 10% moved away within a year, and 17%
moved within 2 years. As explained more fully below,
among the college students surveyed for the current study
whose parents had divorced, 61% experienced a move of
more than one hour’s drive by at least one parent at some
time during their childhood; of the divorced sample, 25%
moved with their custodial mother away from their father.
Postdivorce moves give rise to legal disputes primarily
when the custodial parent seeks to move with the child and
the other parent objects to the move’s impact on his
tacts with the child. This fact pattern is, therefore, the focus
of this introductory discussion, but we later return to the
companion case, in which the noncustodial parent relocates,
leaving the custodial household behind.
Relocation disputes pose a considerable dilemma for