Friday, October 20, 2006
Case Law Development: Massachusetts Court of Appeals Reaffirms Use of "Real Advantage" test in Relocation Cases
The Massachusetts court of appeals reversed a probate court's denial of a custodial mother's petition to relocate, finding that the court had given undue weight to the effect of the move of father's visistation and reaffirming that the "real advantage" test remains the standard by which relocations by custodial parents are to be measured.
The 'real advantage' test is grounded on the 'realization that after a divorce a child's subsequent relationship with both parents can never be the same as before the divorce . . . [and] that the child's quality of life and style of life are provided by the custodial parent.' . . . Although the best interests of the children always remain the paramount concern, '[b]ecause the best interests of a child are so interwoven with the well-being of the custodial parent, the determination of the child's best interest requires that the interests of the custodial parent be taken into account.
Here, the court concluded that
On its face, the mother's case would seem to present a relatively straightforward application of real advantage principles: her marriage had dissolved; she had lost her three-day per week job with Fleet Bank that paid $ 70,000 plus bonuses; the house in which she and the child had lived in Newton was not available after July, 2005, on a month-to-month basis; and she could not afford to purchase a home in Newton that would enable the child to stay in the local school. The move to Old Saybrook offered her free lodging in an upscale community, the companionship of family, and readily available child-care assistance from family while she looked for and established herself in a suitable job. As of the time of trial, she had accepted a three-day per week job as a mortgage originator at a Sovereign Bank in Old Saybrook. These circumstances establish a "good reason" for the move to Connecticut, and the probate judge's determination to the contrary is clearly erroneous.... the findings and rulings concerning removal concentrated almost exclusively on the father's relationship with the child, and in particular the desirability of frequent, short visits with the father. While those findings cannot be considered erroneous, disruption in visitation with the noncustodial parent cannot be controlling or no removal petition would ever be allowed. It is clear from the probate judge's findings that undue -- in effect, dispositive -- weight was given to this criterion.
A dissenting judge would have given greater deference to the trial judge.
Cartledge v. Evans, 2006 Mass. App. LEXIS 1069 (October 19, 2006)
Opinion on web (last visited October 20, 2006 bgf)