At least in most cases. This is because most states now make joint child custody the default option in divorce cases unless one parent proves to be unfit, so in most cases nowadays parents receive joint custody.
Joint custody comes with strict requirements: mom and dad must live close to each other so the children can be easily transported to each house, to school, to extra-curricular activities and friends’ homes. Both parents must be able to agree on important parenting decisions concerning schooling, religious upbringing, medical care and discipline. These requirements, associated with joint custody, can put a serious hindrance in the way of people’s careers.
In my own case, I was extremely lucky that my daughter’s father agreed that I could take a new desirable job I was offered, which was located thousands of miles away from him, and that my daughter should stay at my location during regular school days. He genuinely cared, and cares, about what he saw as being in his daughter’s best interest (attending a better school in a safer city, among other things).
But not everyone can reach this kind of agreement. When Jim Mason and Betsy Shanley Coleman divorced, they were friendly at first. They arranged that their two young boys would stay one week with the mom and then one week with the dad. This was easy to do, as both lived close to each other, to the boys’ school and to extracurricular activities.
The problems began when Betsy remarried and had a new baby. When her new husband was moving one-hundred miles North, Betsy needed to move with him. She went to family court to get permission to take her sons with them.
The judge denied her request.
Realizing that this would tie her down for a decade, requiring her to choose between regular contact with her sons or her husband and new baby, Betsy appealed. The reasons for the appeal were that it was unconstitutional to keep her locked in the town where she had lived prior to the divorce.
The father Jim replied that that it could not possibly be in the children’s best interest to become uprooted and move to a place where he could no longer be actively involved in their daily lives.
The supreme court justice sided with Jim.
There are cases where the court will side with the moving parent, basically leaving it up to the parent left behind to move along or cut down drastically on everyday activities with his or her children. But in the majority of cases where both parents have had regular contact with the child, the judge will consider it in the child’s best interest to rule in such a way that he or she can remain in his or her familiar environment.
Because custody rulings tend to favor status quo, having a child may end up keeping you tied down in a small town and a job you deplore for eighteen years, or more. This kind of heavy restriction of freedom of choice implies a quite considerable additional loss of personal autonomy.