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State laws provide that biological parents make all the decisions involving their children, including education, health care, and religious upbringing. Parents are not required to secure the legal right to make these decisions if they are married and are listed on the child's birth certificate. However, if there is disagreement about who has the right to make these decisions courts can decide. Custody issues between estranged spouses are typically determined in the terms of the separation agreement or custody order if there is a divorce action. In some cases, an interference of custody charge may be brought when the person tries to prevent visitation.
How courts decide a parent's decision to move after a custody order is in effect may be of some guidance. Typically, at the time of the divorce, both parents are living in the same town. But it happens sometimes that at some point after the divorce, one parent wants to move away. Often this is because of a job offer. Other times, the party simply wants to return to his or her family. The issue then becomes: can the parent who is staying behind prevent the other party from moving?
If it is the parent who does not have physical custody, there is no issue. That parent may move. Often, visiting arrangements have to be changed, to allow for fewer, but longer, blocks of time. Typically, children visit spouses in other states during winter break and for part of the summer.
Generally, a parent with physical custody may relocate with a child if not prevented by a court order and it is not done with the intent to deprive the other parent of access to the child. However, if the parent who has physical custody wants to move, and the other parent protests, the courts in most states have the authority to decide, on behalf of the children, whether the custodial parent may move.
The courts typically consider the following factors:
- Whether the move will improve the child's school or community.
- Whether the parent's motive was to harm the non-custodial parent.
- Whether the non-custodial parent's motive in resisting the move is to harm the custodial parent.
- Whether the non-custodial parent will still be able to have ongoing and significant contact with the child.
- The nature of the non-custodial parent's contact with the child so far. In cases that denied the move, a consistent theme is that the other parent has spent many hours each week with the child, consistently showed up for all his or her visitations, and established a close, supportive, and loving relationship with the child.
- The effect, either way, on the child's contact with grandparents and other people who are important influences in his or her life, as well as contact with the child's native culture.
The overall best interest of the child is the deciding factor for the court, based on all the facts and circumstances in each case. If the child is already confused, further estrangement may lead to serious abandonment issues that the child will feel the effects of for a long time.
The following is a WI statute:
948.31 Interference with custody by parent or others.
(1)(a) In this subsection, "legal custodian of a child"
1. A parent or other person having legal custody of the child under
an order or judgment in an action for divorce, legal separation,
annulment, child custody, paternity, guardianship or habeas corpus.
2. The department of children and families or the department of
corrections or any person, county department under s. 46.215, 46.22,
or 46.23, or licensed child welfare agency, if custody or supervision
of the child has been transferred under ch. 48 or 938 to that
department, person, or agency.
(b) Except as provided under chs. 48 and 938, whoever intentionally
causes a child to leave, takes a child away or withholds a child for
more than 12 hours beyond the court-approved period of physical
placement or visitation period from a legal custodian with intent to
deprive the custodian of his or her custody rights without the
consent of the custodian is guilty of a Class F felony. This
paragraph is not applicable if the court has entered an order
authorizing the person to so take or withhold the child. The fact
that joint legal custody has been awarded to both parents by a court
does not preclude a court from finding that one parent has committed
a violation of this paragraph.
(2) Whoever causes a child to leave, takes a
child away or withholds a child for more than 12 hours from the
child's parents or, in the case of a nonmarital child whose parents
do not subsequently intermarry under s. 767.803, from the child's
mother or, if he has been granted legal custody, the child's father,
without the consent of the parents, the mother or the father with
legal custody, is guilty of a Class I felony. This subsection is not
applicable if legal custody has been granted by court order to the
person taking or withholding the child.
(3) Any parent, or any person acting pursuant
to directions from the parent, who does any of the following is
guilty of a Class F felony:
(a) Intentionally conceals a child from the child's other parent.
(b) After being served with process in an action affecting the family
but prior to the issuance of a temporary or final order determining
child custody rights, takes the child or causes the child to leave
with intent to deprive the other parent of physical custody as
defined in s. 822.02 (14).
(c) After issuance of a temporary or final order specifying joint
legal custody rights and periods of physical placement, takes a child
from or causes a child to leave the other parent in violation of the
order or withholds a child for more than 12 hours beyond the
court-approved period of physical placement or visitation period.
(4)(a) It is an affirmative defense to prosecution for
violation of this section if the action:
1. Is taken by a parent or by a person authorized by a parent to
protect his or her child in a situation in which the parent or
authorized person reasonably believes that there is a threat of
physical harm or sexual assault to the child;
2. Is taken by a parent fleeing in a situation in which the parent
reasonably believes that there is a threat of physical harm or sexual
assault to himself or herself;
3. Is consented to by the other parent or any other person or agency
having legal custody of the child; or
4. Is otherwise authorized by law.
(b) A defendant who raises an affirmative defense has the burden of
proving the defense by a preponderance of the evidence.
(5) The venue of an action under this
section is prescribed in s. 971.19 (8).
(6) In addition to any other penalties provided
for violation of this section, a court may order a violator to pay
restitution, regardless of whether the violator is placed on
probation under s. 973.09, to provide reimbursement for any
reasonable expenses incurred by any person or any governmental entity
in locating and returning the child. Any such amounts paid by the
violator shall be paid to the person or governmental entity which
incurred the expense on a prorated basis. Upon the application of any
interested party, the court shall hold an evidentiary hearing to
determine the amount of reasonable expenses.