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Just as a custodial parent does not have to establish that a planned move is "necessary," neither does the noncustodial parent have to establish that a change of custody is "essential" to prevent detriment to the children from the planned move. Rather, the noncustodial parent bears the initial burden of showing that the proposed relocation of the children's residence would cause detriment to the children, requiring a reevaluation of the children's custody. The likely impact of the proposed move on the noncustodial parent's relationship with the children is a relevant factor in determining whether the move would cause detriment to the children and, when considered in light of all of the relevant factors, may be sufficient to justify a change in custody. If the noncustodial parent makes such an initial showing of detriment, the court must perform the delicate and difficult task of determining whether a change in custody is in the best interests of the children.
A divorced mother, who shared joint legal custody of her two sons with their father, filed an order to show cause to modify the visitation order to permit her to relocate with the children to Cleveland, Ohio. The father objected to the mother's plan to move the children and asked that primary custody of the children be transferred to him if the mother moved to Ohio. The trial court concluded that the parents' history of animosity and the mother's consistent attempts to limit contact between the children and their father indicated that the proposed move would be detrimental to the children and ordered that primary physical custody of two minor children would be transferred from their mother to their father if their mother moved to Ohio. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that if the custodial parent has a good faith reason to move the custodial parent cannot be prevented, directly or indirectly, from exercising his or her right to change the child's residence unless the noncustodial parent makes a substantial showing that a change of custody is essential to prevent detriment to the children.
Did the trial court abuse its discretion in deciding that a change in primary custody from the mother to the father would be in the best interests of the children if the mother moved to Ohio?
The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remanded with directions to affirm the trial court's post-judgment order. The court held that just as the mother did not have to establish that her planned move was necessary, neither did the father have to establish that a change of custody was essential to prevent detriment to the children from the planned move. Rather, after the father satisfied his initial burden of showing that the mother's planned move would cause detriment to the children, the trial court was required to reevaluate custody to determine if the children would suffer detriment rendering it essential or expedient to their best interests that there be a change in custody. The change of custody was not justified simply because the mother had chosen, for a sound good faith reason, to move to a different location. The likely impact of the proposed move on the father's relationship with the children was a relevant factor. The situation might have been far different had the parents shown a history of cooperative parenting. If that had been the case, it might have appeared more likely that the detrimental effects of the proposed move on the children's relationship with their father could have been ameliorated by the mother's efforts to foster and encourage frequent, positive contact between the children and their father. But the trial court reasonably concluded that the mother's past conduct made it unlikely that she would facilitate the task of maintaining the father's long-distance relationship with the boys and was, in light of all of the relevant factors, sufficient to justify a change in custody. The trial court properly considered the relevant factors and did not abuse its discretion in deciding that a change in primary custody from the mother to the father would be in the best interests of the children if the mother moved to Ohio.