It can be a dream come true to move across the country for a business opportunity or a new relationship. Others are fortunate to be able to pull up stakes for a while to help care for an ailing relative. But no matter the reason, for divorced people sharing custody, a move across a state line can become a major crisis.

Because states generally govern most family matters, they see taking a child beyond their authority as a major move. Laws in every state follow the same basic principle for child relocation, but small variations can make major differences.

One principle with many variations

There are many rules to remember, but one unifying principle to never forget:

Every state tries to decide custody matters in favor of the best interest of the child. The best interests of the parents do not enter the decision, except that a parent’s circumstances often affect their child’s.

A divorced parent does not always have to involve a court every time they want to change addresses. When a move does involve the court, there can be a lot of steps and exceptions, but it helps to remember that being all the legal jargon and paperwork, the judge will have one clear objective.

Varying rules on when a move needs court approval

For example, usually a move is simple if both parents agree. So, consider some rules of Massachusetts and New Hampshire when parents disagree about moving.

In Massachusetts, a parent must get a court order to move the child either out of or a significant distance within Massachusetts.

New Hampshire requires a court order for moves that are a “substantial change in circumstances.” If the parent and child move closer to the other parent, that circumstance is not “substantial” enough to need court approval. But any move farther away or that changes the child’s school district would be “substantial.”

There are other requirements that differ between the two states but, as in this example, they address comparable questions and their answers resemble each other. However, telling a New Hampshire judge “But in Massachusetts, they do it another way” is unlikely to help your case.

The best interest of the child

In deciding whether to permit the move, Massachusetts judges and New Hampshire judges have separate lists of factors to consider. The two lists are not the same, judges do not have to consider all factors, and judges can consider other factors not on their lists.

However, in both states, the lists are lists of factors affecting the best interest of the child. Both lists include how the move will affect the child’s access to both parents’ emotional and physical support, the child’s access to a wider support network of family and friends, and the overall cost/benefit outlook for the move.