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William G. Austin, Ph.D.
Licensed Psychologist
Northwest Colorado Psychological Services dba

P.O. Box 883009

Evergreen, CO 80439

970-871-4527 voice

303-217-8990 fax


e-mail address: wgaustinphd2@yahoo.com


Relocation and Child Custody Evaluation

One of the most difficult situations facing children after their parents separate and divorce is when one parent wants to relocate with the children to a distant community. Courts grapple with dilemma of permitting a residential parent to pursue opportunities in a new community with the child versus wanting to insure continuity in the nonresidential parent’s involvement with the child. Potential losses and emotional pain face all family members in relocation. A challenge faces both parents to craft a parenting time plan that allows for continued involvement by the non-relocating parent. Different legal standards apply to relocation, depending on the state of jurisdiction, and these standards make relocation more or less difficult. Even in states with a presumption in favor of relocation, case law emphasizes the need for an individualized determination and there is no “bright line” rule that can apply. These cases are very fact driven and call for a thorough investigation of the family’s context and circumstances. The evaluator needs to address all of the decisional alternatives facing the Court in the context of relocation.


            Dr. Austin has developed a forensic psychology model for evaluating this problem for courts and families. He has conducted workshops in different states for different organizations on how to evaluate the relocation case. His risk assessment model is widely used by evaluators across the country. It is a research-based model that allows the evaluator to make predictions and the Court to understand the degree of harm that can be expected to be associated with relocation, or if the child did not relocate. This approach has been recently expanded to address how the evaluator needs to take into account the real advantages and disadvantages associated with relocation, or the child not relocating. The potential resources available to the child in the alternative living arrangements are integrated with the risk assessment predictions. Practical considerations, such as distance, time, and finances also need to be addressed in determining if a long distance parenting plan is feasible.


            When relocation is an issue, Dr. Austin is available to conduct court-appointed parenting evaluations, provide trial consultation to attorneys, and to review the reports of other evaluators in a relocation case. It is sometimes helpful to provide general testimony on research relevant to relocation and risk assessment in the hypothetical form. General testimony typically would involve presentation of scientific research on relocation, application of the research-based relocation risk assessment model, application of the research and risk assessment model to a hypothetical fact pattern.


             Some of Dr. Austin’s publications on relocation in peer-reviewed journals include the following:


Austin, W. G. (2000).  A Forensic Psychology Model of Risk Assessment for Child Custody Relocation Law.  Family and Conciliation Courts Review, 38, 186-201. 


Austin, W. G. (2000).  Relocation Law and the Threshold of Harm: Integrating Legal and Behavioral  Perspectives. Family Law Quarterly, 34, 63-82.         


Austin, W. G. (2000). Risk Reduction Interventions for the Child Custody Relocation Case.  Journal of Divorce and Remarriage, 33, 65-72.


            Austin, W. G. (2008, April). Relocation, research and forensic evaluation: Part II: Research support for the relocation risk assessment model. Family Court Review, 46(2).


            Austin, W. G. (2008). Relocation, research and forensic evaluation: Part I: Effects of residential mobility on children of divorce. Family Court Review, 46(1), 136-149.


            Austin, W. G., & Gould, J. W. (2006). Exploring three Functions in Child Custody Evaluation for the Relocation Case: Prediction, Investigation, and Making Recommendations for a Long-Distance Parenting Plan. Journal of Child Custody: Research, Issues, and Practices, 3, 65-110.


Dr. Austin is the author of the following book chapters on relocation:



           Austin, W. G. (2007).The child and family investigator's evaluation for the relocation case. In R. M. Smith (Ed.), The role of the child and family investigator and the child’s legal representative in Colorado. Denver: Colorado Bar Association (pp. C9-1 – C9-24). Denver: Colorado Bar Association.


            Austin, W. G. (2006).The child and family investigator's evaluation for the relocation case. In R. M. Smith (Ed.), The role of the child and family investigator and the child’s legal representative in Colorado. Denver: Colorado Bar Association (pp. C9-1 – C9-20. Denver: Colorado Bar Association.


            Austin, W. G. (2005). The child and family investigator's evaluation for the relocation case. In R. M. Smith (Ed.), The role of the child and family investigator and the child’s legal representative in Colorado (pp. C9-1 – C9-28). Denver: Colorado Bar Association.


Dr. Austin has presented  the following workshops on relocation:


Legal and Clinical Issues in Cases of Relocation. Reconceptualizing Child Custody: Past, Present, and Future – Lawyers and Psychologists Working Together. Cosponsored by                              American  Psychological Association (APA) and American Bar Association (ABA).  Chicago, May 3, 2008 (with Jeffrey Atkinson, Esq.)


            Relocation and Child Custody: Research & Forensic Evaluation. Mississippi College of Law. November 10, 2006. Jackson, MS.


            Custody Evaluation and Parenting Plans for Relocation: Risk Assessment for High Conflict or Partner Violence. Association of Family and Conciliation Courts, 43rd Annual                     Conference, June 1, 2006, Tampa, FL. (with Leslie M. Drozd, Ph.D.).


            Parenting Evaluation for the Relocation Case in Light of the New Case Law. 2006 Family Issues Conference, Colorado State Judicial Department, Vail, CO, May 19, 2006.


            Custody Evaluation Task Force Open Forum, Association of Family and Conciliation Courts, Regional Training Conference. September 23, 2005, Breckenridge, CO.


            Relocation from the Evaluator’s Perspective in the Shadow of Spahmer and Ciesluk. Workshop, Metropolitan Denver Interdisciplinary Committee monthly meeting,  Denver, CO, September     11, 2005.


Evaluation in the Relocation Case: An Integrated Approach. Workshop presented to the Colorado Judicial Family Issues Conference, Vail, CO, May 6, 2005.


Evaluating the Child Custody Relocation Case: An Integrated Approach, Invited Plenary address to the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts, California Chapter, Annual Meetings, February 12, 2005, Sonoma, CA.


            Your Honor May I? – A discussion regarding “Relocation.” Plenary Session, Family Law Institute, Colorado Bar Association, Breckenridge, CO, August 5, 2005 (with Jennifer Weaver,            J.D.        &     Hon. Lael Montgomery).


An Integrated Approach to Evaluating the Relocation Case. Family Law Institute, Colorado Bar Association, Steamboat Springs, CO, August 7, 2004


Mediator’s Role for the Child Custody Relocation Case, Workshop, Association for Conflict Resolution, Denver, July 12, 2003.


            Removal – Evaluation and Determination, Workshop, State of Colorado Interdisciplinary Committee, Vail, CO, May 3, 2003 (with Judge Jann Dubois)


            A Practical Approach to Evaluation and Conflict Resolution in Child Custody Relocation Cases, Pre-Conference all day Institute, Association of Family and Conciliation Courts: Fifth                International Symposium on Child Custody Evaluations, November 7, 2002, Tucson, AZ. (with Jonathan W. Gould, Ph.D. & Leslie Ellen Shear, J.D.)


           Approaching  Relocation Cases: Risk Assessment, Research, and Practical Problem Solving. Workshop presented at “Serving the Best Interests of the Child,” Sponsored by Office of                the Child’s Representative, State of Colorado, January 10, 2002, Steamboat Springs, CO.


          Evaluating and Litigating the Removal Case (with Rick Loman, J.D.), Colorado Interdisciplinary Committee (State IDC) on children and divorce, Spring Conference, Challenging Conventional        Wisdom on Divorce, Parenting Time and Removal, Breakout Session, May 5, 2001, Vail, CO. [Co-Sponsored, MDIDC and Colorado Chapter American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.]


Relocation: Risk Assessment and Bridging the Gap between the Law and Science, Panel: Handling of a Relocation Case: Substantive Law and Mental Health Perspective. American Bar Association, Section of Family Law, April 19, 2001, Kansas City.


Psychological and Legal Considerations in Relocation Cases. Association of Family & Conciliation Court, Kiawah, SC, Association of Family and Conciliation Courts, Fourth              International Congress on Child Custody Evaluations, November 10, 2000, Workshop.


Relocation: From File to Trial. (With Linda Elrod, J.D., Larry Fong, Ph.D., Lori Nachlis, J.D.). Association of Family & Conciliation Courts, New Orleans, 37th Annual Conference: Alienation, Access & Attachment, May 31, 2000, All Day Training Institute.



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