Is Mediation Appropriate for Divorce-Relocation Disputes?
One of the most contentious child custody conflicts involves a custodial parent who wants to move with the children to a distance far enough away to burden the noncustodial parent’s visitation rights. Custodial parents naturally look at the situation from their perspective: the move brings opportunities for a new job, a new relationship, or a better standard of living. And noncustodial parents respond from their point of view: the loss of parenting time, the added hardship of arranging visits, and the fear that their relationship with their children will diminish. But while each viewpoint is valid, family courts decide the matter based on “the best interests of the child.”
In New York, the Court of Appeals established legal precedent for relocation in its 1996 decision Tropea v. Tropea. That ruling instructed courts to consider all relevant factors, but found five worth mentioning specifically:
- Each parent's reasons for seeking or opposing the move
- The quality of the relationships between the child and the custodial and noncustodial parents
- The impact of the move on the quantity and quality of the child's future contact with the noncustodial parent
- The degree to which the lives of the custodial and the child may be enhanced economically, emotionally and educationally by the move
- The feasibility of preserving the relationship between the noncustodial parent and child through suitable visitation arrangements
A parent petitioning to relocate with the child must show “by a preponderance of the evidence that a proposed relocation would serve the child's best interests.”
When parents are diametrically opposed on such an emotionally charged issue, aggressive litigation in court is often appropriate. However, parents should first consider the potential advantages of mediation:
- Time — Because you are not limited by the court’s crowded calendar, your mediation can move forward at the pace you set. You may be able to resolve the issue, or reach an impasse, by the time the county court can schedule a preliminary hearing.
- Cost — Mediation generally costs much less than a trial, because you save on discovery expenses, such as interrogatories, demands for documents, document production, expert witness reports and testimony, and court reporter fees.
- Stress — Mediation is a cooperative process, so you don’t have the tension of opposing your ex in court. Mediation is also private, so you don’t have the added stress of having to hash out private matters in open court.
- Risk of an adverse ruling — Trials are unpredictable, so parties who choose to litigate give up control over the outcome. When you go to trial, you put the case in the hands of the judge who only knows you and your family from court filings and appearances. But when you mediate a dispute, you don’t have to settle for an unfavorable agreement.
A relocation dispute can be challenging to mediate, but it’s certainly worth trying, especially with an experienced divorce mediator who knows how to guide parties toward a mutually beneficial compromise.
If you have an urgent child custody issue, Solutions Divorce Mediation, Inc. can help you resolve the conflict in a timely, cost-effective manner. Call us at 1.631.683.8172 or contact our Long Island office online.