Another important custody case to come down the past couple years deals with a mother’s difficulties in attempting to relocate to another state with her child.  In Jacob A. v C.H. (2011) 196 CA4th, a California Appellate Court ruled that the trial court that had denied a mother’s request to relocate with her child to Washington state had based its order on incorrect legal assumptions, and had failed to address the legal issue presented by the mother, which was:  What custody arrangement would be in the child’s best interests when mother actually relocated?

The facts of the case are that in 2007, the unmarried parents of a Child ended their relationship, and then Mother moved with the Child to Washington State.  In early 2008, after Mother had returned to California, Father petitioned for custody of the Child.  During that proceeding, Mother filed a motion with the court for a move to Washington.  However, a mediator who had met with both parents recommended against the move.  The mediator also recommended that Mother have primary custody so long as she remained in California.

Based on said recommendation, the trial court denied Mother’s request to move to Washington State and ordered that both parents would have joint legal custody and physical custody.  Mother again brought a motion to move in August of 2009.  She also sought to modify the parenting schedule on the grounds that, despite her best efforts, Mother could not locate work in California and that she had extended family in the state of Washington.  Mother further claimed that the child’s best interests would be served in allowing the Child to move with her and then have visitation with Father.

In her pleadings, Mother cited the Child’s bonds with her and her extended family, and she also noted the allegedly poor parenting choices by Father.  Father opposed the motion, and they were again back to mediation.  The second time around, the mediator initially declined to issue a custody recommendation and instead recommended that counsel be appointed for the Child to investigate the issue of the Child’s best interest.  Ultimately, the trial court denied Mother’s request to move with the Child back to the state of Washington, and Mother appealed.  The court of appeal reversed the trial court’s order.

The panel concluded that the trial court had misapplied the relevant legal standard.  The appellate court said that the trial court “was required to decide de novo what physical custody arrangement would be in (the Child’s) best interests, assuming (Mother) would be living in Washington.”  The appellate court also cited the trial court for having “failed to analyze the issue based on the presumption that mother would be moving to Washington.”  It was “incumbent upon the trial court,” the panel further stated, “to determine whether it was in the child’s best interests to relocate with mother to Washington and visit father, or remain in California with father and visit mother, then devise an appropriate parenting schedule.”

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