James Cook does not think it is legally possible to arbitrarily keep a parent from relocating.
"The Constitution protects the right of citizens to move," says the president of the Joint Custody Association in Los Angeles. "What we need in our statutes is a 'shopping list' to be debated in court and evaluated by a judge," to determine whether a child should go.
That list could compare factors at both locations: housing, schools, safety, access to relatives, and transportation to the other parent. Comparisons, he says, would force parents to think about the child's best interests rather than their own desires.
"We need ... dedicated and motivated parents to work out their own visitation arrangements," Mr. Cook adds. "We have to encourage reluctant parents to do everything possible to stay in touch with their children. Children badly need an awareness that they are loved by both parents."
Noncustodial parents also need notice about a move. Andrew Schepard, professor at Hofstra Law School in Hempstead, N.Y., says, "The parent who is moving should have a plan for how to continue to involve the other parent in the child's life." He suggests extending summer visits with the absent parent and paying travel costs.
Ned Holstein, a physician in Boston, also sees a need for greater appreciation for the importance of a father in a child's life. "If judges and mothers understood that, we wouldn't have to have legal battles," he says.