This pivotal case is the centerpiece in any litigation regarding relocation of children out of the State of Rhode Island. The case came about when a judge implemented a trial Justice denied a petition to allow the removal of the child from the jurisdiction on the basis that there was “no compelling reason to do.”
The RI Supreme considered that standard incorrect, and laid out certain factors to be considered in any relocation matter. With the understanding that the “best interest of the children” is the foremost consideration when considering any custody, placement, or visitation issue, the Court laid out the following factors:
- The nature, quality, extent of involvement, and duration of the child’s relationship with the parent proposing to relocate and with the non-relocating parent.
- The reasonable likelihood that the relocation will enhance the general quality of life for both the child and the parent seeking the relocation, including, but not limited to, economic and emotional benefits, and educational opportunities.
- The probable impact that the relocation will have on the child’s physical, educational, and emotional development. Any special needs of the child should also be taken into account in considering this factor.
- The feasibility of preserving the relationship between the non-relocating parent and child through suitable visitation arrangements, considering the logistics and financial circumstances of the parties. Certainly, the history and past actions of the relocating parent either to foster the relationship between the child and the other parent, or to frustrate the relationship, would be an important consideration. So, too, would be the failure of the non-relocating parent to avail himself or herself of available opportunities for visitation.
- The existence of extended family or other support systems available to the child in both locations.
- Each parent’s reasons for seeking or opposing the relocation. A parent’s desire to relocate with his or her children ought not be predicated upon a whim. On the other hand, as we previously have noted, a relocating parent need not establish a compelling reason for the move. The motivation for the relocation, however, will be a significant consideration. Clearly, a vindictive desire to interfere in the other parent’s relationship with the child would weigh heavily against the parent seeking to relocate.The A.L.I. Principles identify the following non-exclusive list of purposes for a relocation as valid:
- to be close to significant family or other sources of support,
- to address significant health problems,
- to protect the safety of the child or another member of the child’s household from a significant risk of harm,
- to pursue a significant employment or educational opportunity,
- to be with one’s spouse or domestic partner who lives in, or is pursuing a significant employment or
educational opportunity in, the new location,
- to significantly improve the family’s quality of life. The relocating parent should have the burden of proving the validity of any other purpose. The A.L.I. Principles further provide that a move for a valid purpose is reasonable unless “its purpose is shown to be substantially achievable without moving, or by moving to a location
that is substantially less disruptive of the other parent’s relationship to the child.” The motives of the parent opposing the move also should be considered. A parent may be objecting to the child’s relocation to secure a financial advantage or to exercise a measure of control over an ex-spouse, rather than out of a sincere desire to foster a relationship with the child.
- In cases of international relocation, the question of whether the country to which the child is to be relocated is a signatory to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction will be an important consideration.
- To the extent that they may be relevant to a relocation inquiry, the Pettinato factors also will be significant.
We reemphasize that our recitation of factors to be considered is not intended to be exhaustive. Nor is any one factor dispositive. Each case will present its own unique circumstances that a trial justice must balance and weigh as he or she deems appropriate.