The State of Illinois made headlines in January when it completely revamped its custody laws. Gone are the words “custody” and “visitation” and in their place are the terms “parenting plans” and “parental responsibilities”. Lawmakers cited the evolution of the family structure as the main reason behind the changes. Yet inspite of these changes, the standard used to reach these decisions remains the same: what is in the best interests of the child? This legal standard is also used as part of the mass child removal analysis in Massachusetts.
Recently, the Massachusetts Appeals Court affirmed a lower court judge’s decision to allow a mother to move with her child from Massachusetts to Iowa because it was ultimately in the best interests of the child. Harwood v. Lee, 88 Mass.App.Ct. 1120 (2016), The father appealed the lower court decision, arguing that the move would be detrimental to both the child’s developmental needs and the bond between the father and child. The judge had found that when one parent is the primary caretaker, determining the best interests of the child starts with evaluating whether the move would present a real advantage to the removing parent. The Appeals Court agreed with the judge’s decision that the move would be advantageous to the mother because it would provide her with financial, social, and emotional stability.
After addressing the interests of the mother, the judge looked to the best interests of the child. The judge acknowledged the father’s educational concerns but stated that the Iowa school system could provide the necessary support to accommodate the child’s autism. As for maintaining the relationship between the father and child, the parenting schedule devised by the judge placed the child with the father for the bulk of the child’s summer vacation as well as school year vacations. In light of these facts, the Appeals Court affirmed the lower court judge’s decision to allow the child’s removal.
Removal cases are often quite litigious. In order to win a removal case it is necessary present the court with facts that satisfy the removal standard. Alternatively, the non removing parent must persuade the Judge that that it is not a real advantage to the removing parent or not in the best interests of the child. If you are contemplating removing your child from Massachusetts or are defending against a mass child removal from Massachusetts, do not hesitate to contact a Massachusetts family law attorney for assistance or advice on the process.