The speech I will one day give my daughter about not following in Mommy's footsteps has been perfected, memorized, and ready to aim and fire the moment she's old enough to date.
While many parents will choose to teeter-totter around the awkward, but necessary, talk about the birds, the bees, and STDs, injected into my version of "The Talk" will be a warning to my daughter to never seriously date or marry a man who lives in a state different from the one she ultimately sees herself living and raising children in.
A wife's hometown in California and a husband's hometown in Virginia, a turbulent marriage, intermittent thoughts of divorce in an increasingly mobile society, and the burden of proving to the court that the relationship between child and the non-custodial parent will only be "minimally impacted" are the things that nasty custody battles are made of.
When we set out to live "happily ever after," we rarely consider that "ever after" might end much sooner than we expected and that "happily" is only a word and not an enduring experience. But as life has it, "ever after" sometimes ends in divorce, relocation, a child left hanging in the balance, and one or both parents suffering from a no-win choice to either stay together for the sake of whatever we justify as a good enough reason to stay together, or head towards divorce and suffer the effects of what divorce and relocation may impose on not only the psyche of the child, but the parents as well. When children are involved, divorce sometimes seems like a selfish option, and to remain married an act of a martyr.
So before signing on the dotting line and packing your children up for the long haul across, here are some things to consider and expect when relocating with children after divorce:
1. Because child custody and relocation is among the most difficult issues of divorce, expect the possibility of joining the moderate percentage of divorced parents who will appear before family court seeking resolution.
2. There is no "one size fits all" application to deciding how, and to what degree, a child might be impacted by the relocation. The laws surrounding relocation and child custody vary and each state interprets the law differently. Determine your state's laws to help you decide on whether relocation is right for you and your children.
3. In family court, the well-being of the child supersedes that of the custodial parent being closer in proximity to a support system or a job with increased pay. In the event that the well-being of the child is inextricably linked to the custodial parent relocating in effort to improve the quality of life for both the parent and child, the court will take this into consideration when making a ruling.
4. Should the non-custodial parent decide to contest the relocation, be prepared to "prove" that the child will only be "minimally impacted" by the move. In family court "proof" could mean firmly establishing that the child's overall quality of life will improve despite being physically separated from the non-custodial parent.
5. Expect for the court and even loved ones to critically inspect your motive to move and to criticize your decision. There will be people who will label you bitter, angry, and vengeful and will claim that it is vengeance and anger that has served as the guiding forces behind your decision to relocate with your children. You must be sure not to make such a major decision as relocation while your emotions are still running high from the divorce.
6. Expect the possibility of a lose-lose situation. In some situations, like the one I will undoubtedly warn my daughter against, the trade-off for the supposed improved quality of life are feelings of guilt and selfishness for the prolonged physical distance between the child and non-custodial parent. And in some situations, the trade-off for keeping the child and non-custodial parent within close proximity of one another could mean keeping the custodial parent from a stronger support system, better paying job, and personal happiness.
Like every parent, I will be wishing on a star that my daughter will not have to face every challenge I have had to face or have to jump every hurdle I've had to jump. I know that "The Talk" will not protect her from the inevitable pain and hardships she will one day endure, but I have to at least do my part by considering all options and thinking earnestly about how her life will be impacted by my every decision. All is supposedly fair in love and war, but when children are involved, there just seems to be no justice.