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The Ins and Outs of Indiana’s Relocation Statute

Part I

How to properly object to your child moving out of state when you were never married to the other parent and never went to court

News Alert: It’s 2021 and you still cannot move your child out of state unless the other parent agrees or you get the court’s permission after a court hearing.

Indiana Law has specific rules and requirements for both parents to follow when one parent wants to move out of state with the child. Whether you are the parent wanting to move or the parent objecting to the move, you should become very familiar with Indiana’s Relocation Statute found at I.C. 31-17-2.2. The statute contains detailed information and instructions for the parent who wants to move (also called, “relocating parent”) and for the parent who is trying to stop the move (“non-relocating parent”). The Relocation Statute is not only triggered when a parent wants to move out of state. It is also applied when a parent’s relocation requires the child to change schools; or, when the distance between the parents’ homes increases by 20 miles or more as a result of the move. In July 2019, Indiana’s Relocation Statute was revised significantly so it is important to review the most current version of the law before tackling or defending against a child relocation case.

The courts prefer for children to stay in the same house, neighborhood, and school until they turn 18 so long as their needs are met and there are no extraordinary circumstances that warrant moving the child to a new home, school, or community. A basic premise to the “best interests of the child” legal standard is stability. Children thrive on stability and do not cope well with change whether it is a change in schools or their home environment. For these reasons, the law in Indiana sets forth specific requirements and restrictions when the custodial parent wants to move out of state with the child. The short answer: You can’t just move whenever you want to wherever you want if the other parent does not agree with your plan.

The first step for the relocating parent is to review the current custody order. If there is no custody order because there was never an open court case (such as a divorce or paternity case), and the parents were not married when the child was born, then the relocating parent needs to obtain a copy of the “Paternity Affidavit” that was signed in the hospital. This form will determine whether the child’s father has any legal rights to the child and whether the father could legally object to the mother moving the child out of state. If there never was a paternity affidavit and the parents were never married, then father would not have legal standing to object to mother’s relocation of the child at this juncture. However, it simply requires a petition to establish paternity in a new Juvenile Paternity case. Once paternity is established in father,  he will have the requisite legal standing to object to the child’s relocation with the mother.

Typically, if the child was given the father’s last name at birth (and the parents were not married), then there is a 99% chance there was a properly executed Paternity Affidavit. Knowing whether or not this document exists is crucial for both parents at the beginning stages of a relocation case. If you are the mother trying to move, and the father never signed this form (and you two were never married), then the mother technically doesn’t have to notify father about the move or obtain his consent first before moving the child. If you are the father and don’t know whether or not you have a legal right to stop mother from moving with the child, you need to contact the Indiana Dept. of Health to request a copy of the Paternity Affidavit. If one exists, you may proceed with your objection in court to prevent mother from moving with the child. If no Paternity Affidavit is on file with the Dept. of Health, then you do not have legal rights to the child nor can you stop mother from moving with the child until you formally file a petition to establish paternity. This petition should also include information about mother’s proposed relocation and that you object pursuant to the aforementioned Relocation Statute.