Dear Dr. Jann: My ex and I share our daughter — I see her three weekends a month, but we have no formal court order.  We have always been very flexible. She just moved to another state and has taken my daughter without notice. What recourse do I have? My daughter is gone!
Dr. Jann Says: This is the exact reason parents should have a custody order in place. Although courts usually determine the child can go with the parent who was the primary caregiver, there is a certain protocol in place when parents have a court ordered parenting plan. With a court order, parents can’t just make a unilateral decision, they must offer written notice prior to the move. This gives the non-custodial parent enough time to go back to court and request the move be stopped —or another parenting plan can be put in place that allows the move, but parenting time for the other parent. Without a court order, although morally questionable to just take off with a child, it is my understanding that either of you could have moved and taken the child with you.
At this point, if you want to ensure that you will see your daughter on a regular basis, look into filing a formal court order for parenting time. Just as head’s up, when parents live long distances from their children, their time is usually designated as “School breaks, long weekends, and Summer vacation.” Who is responsible for transportation is often a problem and can be decided by the court if you and mom can’t agree. You can always deviate from a court order by mutual agreement. Good idea to get any agreed upon changes in writing.