California courts are guided primarily by the California Supreme Court’s decision In Re Marriage of La Musga, which sets out the pertinent criteria for the court to consider in deciding a move-away case. The criteria are:
- the child’s interest in stability and continuity in the custodial arrangement;
- the distance of the proposed move;
- the age of the child;
- the child’s relationship with both parents;
- the relationship between the parents, including but not limited to their ability to communicate and cooperate effectively and their willingness to put the interests of the child above their individual interests;
- the wishes of the child, if the child is mature enough for such an inquiry to be appropriate;
- the reasons for the proposed move; and
- the extent to which the parents are currently sharing custody.
Courts generally also give consideration to:
- family- and community support systems (in both locations); and
- the proposed parenting schedule(s) and living situation(s).
The court will listen to testimony that addresses each of these concerns and then determine what parenting arrangement, in consideration of all of the above factors, is in the child’s best interests. Frequently, in move-away matters, the court orders a child custody evaluation. This procedure allows the court to receive expert testimony from a child psychologist (or another mental health professional) addressing each of the ten factors above. This testimony, which is memorialized in a formal report, is usually based on psychological testing and interviews with the parties, the children involved, and relevant collateral witnesses (e.g., pediatricians, teachers, babysitters, or grandparents)
Pauline Rosen is a divorce attorney and the founder of the Law and Mediation Offices of Pauline Rosen, located in the South Bay (Los Angeles), providing compelling, competent advocacy with compassionate client-centered legal services, including family law, collaborative law, and mediation. She is the recipient of the American Jurisprudence Award in Ethics, Counseling, and Negotiation and in Criminal Procedure and is listed in Who’s Who (1999).