2017 Wisconsin Act 203 (“Act 203”) recently made significant changes to the law that governs when one divorced parent seeks to relocate geographically far away from their child’s other parent. This post summarizes Act 203’s changes to prior law and details the new procedures and standards applicable under the Act.
Act 203, which went in effect on April 5, 2018, changes prior law in four major ways:
It Reduces— from 150 miles to 100 miles—the distance that triggers legal scrutiny.
It requires the moving parent to provide the court with more detailed information about the reason for the move and with a proposal for placement if the relocation is granted.
It provides for special consideration of cases involving a parent who does not significantly exercise placement and relocations related to abuse.
Finally, it clarifies the somewhat confusing presumptions and burdens of proof under prior law by generally placing the burden of proof on the party requesting the relocation.
Overall, the new law streamlines the standards a court considers in deciding whether to grant the relocation and places additional requirements on the parent requesting the move.
Under prior law, if both parents shared physical placement of the child, then a parent wishing to move 150 miles or more away from the other parent, or wishing to remove the child from the state for more than 90 consecutive days, had to give the other parent and the court 60 days’ written notice. Wis. Stat. 767.481(1) (2015-2016). If the other parent objected, the court would refer the parents to mediation and had discretion as to whether to appoint a Guardian ad Litem. Wis. Stat. 767.481(2) (2015-2016).
After the filing of a motion or order, the court would consider different statutory factors (such as whether the change was in the best interests of the child) and determine whether to grant the relocation request. Wis. Stat. 767.481(5) (2015-2016). Prior law created numerous presumptions and varying burdens of proof depending on the current custody and placement agreements at the time of the proposed relocation. Wis. Stat. § 767.81(3) (2015-2016).
Under Act 203, if both parents share physical placement, then the parent intending to relocate 100 miles or more from the other parent must first file a motion with the court seeking permission to relocate the child. Wis. Stat. 767.481(1)(a) (2017-2018). If the move is less than 100 miles from the other parent, notification is no longer required, even if the move crosses state lines. When a motion is required, the motion must include a relocation plan that provides the reason for the relocation and outlines proposed responsibility and allocation of costs relating to transportation, among other items. Wis. Stat. 767.481(1)(b) (2017-2018). The parent wishing to move must send notice to the other parent of the deadline to object, and attach the “Objection to Relocation” form. Id.
The court must hold an initial hearing within 30 days of the motion. Wis. Stat. 767.481(2) (2017-2018). If the parent not seeking to move does not appear at the initial hearing, or appears but does not object, then the court must approve the proposed relocation plan, absent a finding that relocation is not in the best interests of the child. Id. If the other parent does object, then the parties are referred to mediation and a Guardian ad Litem is appointed. Wis. Stat. 767.481(2)(c)2.-3. (2017-2018).
At the final hearing, the court must approve the proposed relocation if it only minimally changes or affects the current placement schedule. Wis. Stat. 767.481(4) (2017-2018). If that is not the case, the court must consider the 16 factors outlined in 767.41(5). A presumption in favor of the proposed relocation plan applies if the court determines that the objecting parent has not significantly exercised court-ordered physical placement or if the relocation is related to abuse.
The new statute clarifies that the moving party bears the burden of proof in a contested relocation, except in cases where objecting parent has not significantly exercised placement or relocation is related to abuse.
Act 203 should make relocation requests simpler for both parents, by making the process and the applicable standards clearer. The State Bar’s Family Law Section, of which I am past chair, was heavily involved in drafting Act 203 and shepherding it through the legislative process.