If a husband and wife divorce without children, neither will have any right to dictate where the other lives moving forward. That is no one’s business. But the rules grow more complicated when a parenting plan is involved.
This question is closely related to the issue of child relocation, also posted recently on the Alongi Law Firm website. You should read both together!
All Americans have a fundamental right to migrate. But, like other constitutional protections, it is not a limitless, absolute prerogative. It can be counterbalanced by another person’s equivalent rights. A person can also give away rights for the sake of reaching a settlement. This article discusses a parent’s right to decide where to live in the aftermath of a family court decree.
Rules Created by Agreement
Parents do have the power to negotiate restrictions a judge might never impose after a contested trial. For example, they can bind each other to a promise not to live more than “x” number of miles from each other (or a school) to simplify a child’s life, child exchanges, or shared attendance at child-related activities. But nothing in Arizona or federal law requires this. It is a voluntary, often helpful decision.
Is It Wise to Lock Myself into An Arrangement Like This?
It depends. On a lot of things.
If the relationship with your former partner is sensible and productive, with no history of violence, mental illness, substance abuse, or controlling behavior, it helps. This is important because, if you ever have to ask for permission to back out of the “residential zone” agreement several months (or even years) later, you’ll want to deal with someone who has a demonstrated history of being flexible despite your past differences.
You should also take a hard look at your employment and residential stability, and whether the cost of living is rising or falling in your neighborhood. If even the slightest chance exists that you could have to move because of a job transfer, work furlough, or outright layoff, you may regret the day you signed off on an agreement like this.
Benefits and Drawbacks
The good news is obvious. If you live close together, it can make your lives a lot easier and less expensive. Child exchanges and holidays can work really well, and neither parent has to fret over missing a child’s play, concert, or baseball game because of heavy traffic between home and event.
The bad news is equally obvious. Living in close proximity to your ex heightens the odds you will routinely see each other at your child’s school, the grocery store, or restaurants. That is rarely fun. And as explained above, cementing yourself into a narrowly confined “zone” can wreak havoc on your new life if unforeseen circumstances no longer permit living where you once intended. Without the consent of the other parent, you would have to file a formal petition to modify the parenting plan. That means more litigation, more tension, more expense, more time lost from work, and more anxiety for the children. Worst of all, if you are negotiating with a former partner who was violent with you, or demonstrated a habit of controlling every aspect of your life, handing him a residential “zone restriction” might be about the worst decision you could make.
Deciding where to live after divorce is complicated enough. Adding special restrictions can make things better or worse, depending on your family’s unique circumstances. And you may want to script exceptions to those restrictions with an eye toward a rainy day. If you find yourself worrying over all this, you may want to consult with an attorney for guidance.