Child Relocation During the COVID-19 PandemicREQUEST A CONSULTATION
By Marvin Mendez, Divorce and Family Law Attorney
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and increased remote work possibilities, we’ve seen a much higher volume of child relocation cases come through our office. The unique circumstances caused by the pandemic have led parents to seek lower cost of living, more favorable climates and more familial support.
In Illinois, your move is considered child relocation (previously known as child removal) if you have majority parenting time and you are moving to a new home that is more than 25 miles away. If you’re considering relocating with your child after a divorce—or if your former spouse is—there are several factors to consider. Our divorce and family law attorneys at Stern Perkoski Mendez are here to support you as you navigate this delicate situation.
If I disagree with my spouse on relocation, how do we decide?
If you and your former spouse have a disagreement on relocation, the first step will be mediation. All cases require mediation as a precursor to litigation for a few reasons.
The courts have been especially slow throughout the pandemic, and litigation may take months or years—and it’s incredibly costly. Mediation also affords you and your former spouse more decision-making power, allowing you to come up with creative solutions that work well for your family rather than handing over the final decision to a judge.
If mediation is unsuccessful, your case will go to litigation—and our attorneys will advocate for you and your child fiercely in the courtroom. During litigation, it’s likely that a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) will be involved to represent your child’s perspective and best interests.
Who will the court side with?
While every situation is incredibly unique, there are 11 factors written into law that the court will consider in its decision. While I won’t go into full detail on all of them, here are a few situations the judge may consider:
- Are both parents actively involved in the child’s life? If so, it might be challenging to get the court to agree to a relocation.
- Is one parent inactive or toxic? If this is the case, it’s far more likely the court will support relocation of the parent who is more actively involved in the child’s life.
- Is there a legitimate reason for your relocation? If you’re relocating to be closer to family and lower your childcare costs, the court will likely be more understanding. Other common situations are health reasons, a new relationship, a significant raise or better job opportunities.
- Was this decision made out of malice? If your spouse wants to relocate because they dislike you or want to make your life more difficult after divorce, the judge will recognize that. Maliciously choosing to relocate without any tangible benefits typically doesn’t work well in court, and the judge is unlikely to side with your spouse if this is the case.
What if I disagree with the court’s decision?
During these cases, the court will typically use a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) to help navigate the situation. The GAL will spend time with your child and ensure that their best interests are represented in court. However, there may be scenarios in which you disagree with the GAL and the court’s decision, because you know what is best for your child.
If you disagree with the outcome, you can enlist the support of a 604.10b evaluator, who will neutrally determine whether or not relocation is in the child’s best interest. If you choose to go this route, it’s then possible your spouse may disagree with the ruling of the 604.10b evaluator—in which case, they can hire a 604.10c evaluator to reconsider.
These evaluators exist to ensure that your child’s best interest is protected, and that parents have autonomy in decision making. However, it’s our hope at Stern Perkoski Mendez that child relocation can be solved through mediation before getting to litigation, or that the GAL provides a recommendation that works well for your family.
What are possible parenting time compromises?
If one parent is set on relocation, the child will be without one parent or the other for most of the year. So, our goal is to formulate a parenting time schedule that minimizes harm and maximizes your child’s quality of life.
Here are a few examples of compromises I’ve seen work well for clients in the past:
- One parent receives school time and the other gets every extended winter break, spring break, summer and long weekends such as Labor Day and Memorial Day.
- Parents follow the above schedule and carve out specific vacations each year so that both parents are able to enjoy time with their child during school breaks.
- Parents follow the above schedule, and the parent with less parenting time visits for additional extended periods of time.
- The parent who has chosen to relocate absorbs the majority of flight and visitation expenses, especially if the relocation was financially beneficial to them.
Contact Our Divorce and Family Law Firm in Evanston and Chicago
Child relocation, though challenging, can work for you and your family. We’re committed to helping you find a solution that can minimize expenses and protect the emotional health of your child and entire family.
If you need support in a child relocation case, request a free consultation or call us at (847) 868-9584. We will happily meet with you in our offices in Evanston, Chicago, Lake Forest and Oak Brook, or at another location.