PHOENIX -- A proposal moving though the Arizona Legislature would require a divorced mother or father who wants to move to file court notices and give a 60 day notice to the parent who doesn't have custody.
The bill by Republican Sen. Nancy Barto of Phoenix would replace a current law that only requires the notifications if the move is out of state or more than 100 miles away. Proponents say that rule has been abused in some cases by parents who make a series of moves and doesn't take into consideration the effect on parenting time a move of much less distance can mean.
Opponents argue it could affect the ability of a custodial parent to take a new job, buy a house or even move because a landlord wants them out in 30 days.
The formal court notification also would trigger a certified letter or service to the other parent. If an objection is made, the parent who wants to move then has to seek formal court approval.
Like all child custody issues, the proposed changes to the 100-mile "bright line" rule dive deep into the problems surrounded divorce, child custody and the "parenting time" non-custodial parents are entitled to under the law. As originally written, it erased the 100-mile trigger and said any move required a new formal notice, but an amendment made moves of 2 miles presumptively inconsequential, although still requiring a notice. Parents on a new state domestic violence confidentiality registry would be exempt.
The changes have been in the works for about three years, said Steven Wolfson, a Phoenix family law attorney who is the State Bar of Arizona's legislative liaison and sits on the Legislature's Domestic Relations Committee.
"The idea was that the 100 mile rule ... was outdated and was flawed to begin with and we needed to look at the whole entire process from both sides, the moving and the non-moving parent, and try to balance each parent's right under the Constitution," Wolfson said.
Those rights include the ability to travel and to be involved in parenting.
He said he wasn't worried that the notification requirement would be a major stumbling block for parents who can agree, saying a judge would always accept an agreement between parties.
But other lawyers said the proposed law is rife with problems, involving already overwhelmed family courts in a process that is done thousands of times a year.
"Typically, in most cases in Arizona, parenting plans provide that parents are supposed to attempt some sort of alternative dispute resolution before litigating matters with the court," said Helen Davis, another Phoenix family law specialist. "This process of filing notices with the court before there is an actual dispute ... seems to clog the court with unnecessary paperwork and perhaps begin involving the parties with the court in a situation where maybe they could have avoided it."
There is broad agreement among lawyers that the 100-mile rule no longer works. For instance, a parent with custody could decide to make a 30-mile move from Chandler to Glendale and judges might be loath to block it because of the rule. But such moves can severely impact a parent's time with a child, keeping them from weekend night visits, for instance, and from attending school functions.
But the proposal also places a big roadblock before custodial parents who buy a house or take another job. For parents who can't get along, the bill as written also makes it easy to block a move, at least temporarily, by filing an objection.
That's actually a good thing, said Barto, because it gets the matter handled early, rather than after a move where litigation could be expensive and drawn out.
She acknowledged it may place added burdens on clogged family courts, but she said children come first and they'll have to adjust.
"The goodness, the health, the welfare of the child must come first in these circumstances," Barto said. "The laws have to accommodate the best interests of the child, and that's what this bill rectifies."
The bill has passed the Senate and was approved with two amendments in a House committee Thursday.