As I have said before and I will say again, child custody relocation cases are extremely difficult, especially from the perspective of the bench when the ‘primary caregiver’ is the parent relocating. In this case, the Mother moved to another State for a new job earning approximately, what will net to be about, $20,000.00 more a year. She does not have family there (actually moved further from all of her family), she has not attempted to facilitate any access for the Father, and she disobeyed an existing order of court. On the other hand, all of Father’s family lives in Maryland, he owns a home in Maryland, Mother has a sister in Maryland, and Mother did not even attempt to find another position in the state of Maryland (and did I mention she voluntarily left her employment in Maryland, she was not unemployed).
In Maryland, in an establishment case, which this case is with the relocation twist, the Court must determine what is in the best interest of the minor child. Those factors include, but are not limited to, the fitness of the parents, the desires and agreements of the parents, the potential to maintain family relationships, the child’s preference if he or she is at a sufficient age, opportunities affecting the child, the age and health of the child, and the residence of the parents and opportunity for visitation. Montgomery County v. Sanders, 38 Md. App. 406 (1997). Relocation cases tap into additional factors, such as (1) the nature, quality, extent of involvement, and duration of the child’s relationship with the parents, siblings and other significant persons in the child’s life, (2) the age, developmental stage, needs of child, and most likely impact the relocation will have on the child’s physical, mental, and educational development, (3) the feasibility of preserving the relationship between the non-relocating parent and the child through suitable visitation arrangements; (4) whether the relocation of the child will enhance the general quality of life for both the custodial party seeking relocation and the child, including, but not limited to financial or emotional benefit or educational opportunity; (5) the reasons of each person for seeking or opposing the relocation; and (6) any other factors affecting the best interest of the child. In this particular case, among other things, what I thought was of utmost importance to point out to the Court was an additional factor, that the Mother has established a pattern of conduct attempting to thwart the relationship between the child and his Father and if she could not follow an existing Order of Court, why would she follow another Order if the Court grants her custody. In addition, when weighing stability (in my opinion we had a lot of stability factors on our side), there is a lot to be said for the stability of the child remaining in the environment and community in which they live. In the interest of the limited time we had for our closing arguments, I asked the Court to re-read Dominques v. Johnson and Braun v. Headley, in my opinion two of the leading cases on relocation, and to consider Shunk v. Walker and the impact that decision had on 9-105 of the Family Law Article . We are a little over a month out and still no decision, stay tuned for Part Three.