The law in Massachusetts regarding the removal of a child from the state

Even the most well planned child custody arrangement can be in jeopardy should a custodial parent decide he or she wants to move outside of Massachusetts with a child who is subject to shared custody or a visitation agreement. Fortunately, however, Massachusetts law contains a provision expressly dedicated to resolving issues related to the removal of a minor child of divorced parents from Massachusetts.

Specifically, under Massachusetts child custody law, if a minor child is a native to Massachusetts, or has lived in the state for at least five years, his or her custodial parent cannot relocate with him or her outside the state unless the child first consents - so long as the child is of "suitable age to signify consent." Alternatively, if the child is not of suitable age, the custodial parent cannot relocate with the child without first obtaining the consent of the noncustodial parent or a court order approving the move.

Ultimately, this means that if a noncustodial parent objects to the move, the custodial parent will generally only be permitted to relocate with the child outside the state if the move is in the best interests of the child. In fact, while a court will often first consider the advantages of the move to the custodial parent, in circumstances of shared custody, the child's best interests typically remain the focus of the court. For instance, when determining the best interests of the child in the context of child relocation, courts may review several factors, including:

  • Whether the child's quality of life may be improved due to the move, including any improvement stemming from the increased quality of life for the custodial parent
  • The possible adverse impact of the elimination or curtailment of the child's relationship with the noncustodial parent should the relocation be permitted
  • Whether permitting the move, or alternatively, not permitting the move, will impact the emotional, physical or developmental needs of the child
  • Interests of both the custodial and noncustodial parent

Additionally, while the child removal statute in Massachusetts technically only applies to the relocation of a child following divorce, Massachusetts courts have found that even if the parents of the child were never married, the child is still entitled to the "same rights and protections" - meaning the statute is often applied by analogy to non-marital children.

In the end, child custody cases are quite complex in Massachusetts. In fact, courts may apply different standards and burdens simply due to the parents' custody arrangement. Accordingly, if you are a parent seeking to stop a child relocation, or a parent attempting to move outside the state with a child, it is often best to seek the counsel of an experienced child custody attorney. A knowledgeable attorney can help protect your rights as well as your child's best interests.