Parental Relocation in Child Custody Battles

As noted previously, Bode Miller’s ongoing child custody saga provides a good backdrop to analyze Colorado law for relocation cases. A brief summary of Miller’s situation is necessary.

Miller and Sara McKenna briefly dated in the spring of 2012 in California. She got pregnant in May, which, coincidently, was the same month that Miller married another woman. McKenna decided to go to college and sent Miller a text in October: “Just a heads up, I met with an advisor from Columbia [in NYC] today and we will probably be moving there in the fall.” Before the baby was born, Miller filed a “Petition to Establish Parental Relationship” in California. McKenna moved to New York in December when she was seven months pregnant. Their son was born in New York and the legal wrangling over custody began.

While there are complicating jurisdictional issues between New York and California in Miller’s matter, at its core, the case is about a parent’s right to relocate with a child. These types of cases frequently come up in divorces or general child custody disputes in places like Aspen or Vail because of the high cost of living. Parents going through a divorce realize that living alone is more expensive and challenging in terms of a work-life balance. Often times a parent will determine that moving closer to family or a less expensive area is necessary even though it will result in the other parent having significantly less time with the children.

In Colorado, relocation cases are separated into two distinct categories: (1) initial allocation of parental responsibilities and (2) post-decree modifications. For example, the analysis for a mother going through a divorce in Vail who wants to relocate to New York City is different than the same mother who wants to leave Vail five years later.

The former situation — where a parent is going through an initial allocation of parental responsibilities — is guided by Spahmer v. Gullette and C.R.S. 14-10-127. The latter — a post-decree relocation — is controlled by In re Marriage of Ciesluk and C.R.S. 14-10-129. The differences between how a Colorado court deals with these two scenarios will be the subject of my next substantive post.

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