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Automatic custody change reversed

A divorce court cannot order that custody will automatically change from mom to dad if the mother decides to move out of Virginia or more than 30 miles from the father’s home, the Virginia Court of Appeals ruled today.

In Demuth v. Demuth, an appellate panel reversed a Prince William County Circuit Court decision that granted primary physical custody to the mother, with a reversion of custody to the father upon a move by mother. The mother had discussed moving to Texas with the child, but told the trial court she would not move if it meant losing custody of her son.

Both the final divorce decree and Virginia law require that if the mother decides to move, she has to file a notice of relocation and the trial court then can assess the change in circumstances, wrote Judge Robert Humphreys in the court’s unpublished opinion.

The proper remedy, Humphreys said, would be to wait until a concrete proposed move and then assess the best interests of the child.

By Deborah Elkins

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