If there is a custody order in place, can I relocate?
Custody orders in Virginia are supposed to include a condition that if either parent wants to “relocate,” s/he has to give the other parent and the court 30 days advance written notice of the intended move. The notice has to include the intended change of address, unless the judge says you do not have to provide your address.1 Note: The law does not indicate how far the move must be in order to be considered a “relocation.” If you are not sure if this applies to your situation, please get advice from an attorney. You may also want to ask an attorney for advice on the best way to keep a record of the notice you send to the other parent (for example, perhaps sending it return-receipt requested, etc.) Upon receiving the notice, the other parent may object to your intended move, especially if it would interfere with his/her time with the children. In that case, you may have to ask the court to change the order to allow you to move and to modify the visitation schedule so that the move will not violate the other parent’s visitation order.
The court will decide whether or not to allow the child to relocate based on the best interests of the child. For more information on how to change your custody order, please see If a custody order is already in place, can I get it changed? Warning: If your custody order says you cannot take your child out of the state or if by moving out of state, you violate the visitation rights of the other parent, you could possibly be charged with contempt of court, parental kidnapping, or both.2
Note: If you are in danger and need to leave the state to protect yourself or your child, you may be able to file for temporary emergency custody in the state that you flee to. Getting a temporary order will mean that you have legal custody of your child for the time being, but the abuser could be notified that you applied for custody in that state, which might make it easier for him/her to locate you. For more information about how to get this, see Can I get temporary emergency custody? Please talk to a lawyer before leaving the state if at all possible. Go to VA Finding a Lawyer for free and paid lawyers.
1 Va. Code § 20-124.5
2 Va. Code §§ 18.2-49.1; 18.2-47(D)