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Child Custody and Relocation - Don't Move Until You Read This

February 27, 2015

By Aneesah El-Amin-Jaamia

People choose to relocate for a variety of reasons, such as a new job, a remarriage or even the desire to reside in a different climate. In the United States, we take it for granted that an adult is free to relocate throughout the country without the approval of the court or of a governmental agency. However, when a parent involved in a child custody matter wishes to relocate with their children to another state or even within the same state, they may be required to receive permission from the other parent and/or the Family Court.  

Many parents are unaware of this rule or are unsure how to comply with all of the requirements. This article will help with the basics.

The basic “relocation” rule is as follows: when the parent of a minor child wishes to move out of state or to a location where the distance would significantly impair the ability of the non-relocating parent to exercise custodial time with the child, that parent must seek the approval of the other parent or any other party who has custodial rights to a child, and may also need to obtain an order from the court granting them permission to relocate the child.

Pennsylvania’s Child Custody Law defines a “relocation with children” as a change in a residence of the child that “significantly impairs the ability of a non-relocating party to exercise custodial rights.” The key inquiry in determining “significant impairment” is whether the move will significantly impair the other parent’s ability to see the children in a manner approaching the ease and amount of time they had with their children if the other party had not moved. Generally, moving with children within the same county or in close proximity to the non-relocating parent will not be considered a relocation. It should be noted, however, that the law does not define “distance” related to relocation, but instead focuses on the non-relocating parent’s ability to exercise custody after the other parent moves. 

Parents planning to relocate as defined in the Child Custody Law must satisfy strict notice requirements. No later than 60 days before the proposed move, the parent must provide the other parent (or third parties with custodial rights to the child) a Notice of Proposed Relocation via regular and certified mail, return receipt requested. This notification must include:

  • The address (and alternate mailing address) and home telephone number of the intended new residence.
  • Names and ages of the individuals (now living) in the new residence, including individuals who intend to live in the new residence.
  • The name of the new school district and school.
  • The date of the proposed relocation and the reasons for the proposed relocation.
  • A proposal for a revised custody schedule.

The relocating parent must also attach an affidavit for the non-relocating parent to complete indicating their position on the intended move and the proposed revised custody schedule. The notice also must include a warning to the non-relocating party that if they do not respond within thirty (30) days after receipt of the notice, they are prohibited from objecting to the relocation. 

When a non-relocating party opposes relocation, or the modification of their custody schedule, they must file the affidavit indicating their objection with the court within thirty (30) days of their receipt of the Notice of Proposed Relocation. They must also send a copy of their objection to the relocating party. The consequences of failing to meet these requirements are serious because when a party fails to object in a timely manner, they are generally prevented from opposing the relocation.

When no objection is received, the relocating party must file proof that notice was provided to the non-relocating party, an affidavit stating that no objection was received, a petition to confirm relocation and modify the existing custody order and a proposed order that contains all of the information that must be provided in the Notice of Proposed Relocation. In certain instances, the court may also require a party to file a Petition to Modify Custody to accompany a request to relocate or an objection to a proposed relocation.

Upon receipt of the affidavit objecting to the proposed relocation, the court will schedule an expedited hearing at which time the relocating party will bear the burden to establish a variety of factors supporting their desire to relocate, including, but not limited to, proof that the relocation will enhance the quality of life for both the relocating parent and child, and that they have a good faith motivation for relocating. In response, the non-relocating party will have the opportunity to present evidence, testimony and witnesses establishing good faith reasons for their objection to the relocation. The court will then make a determination whether the child may relocate, based upon a variety of factors that relate to what is in the child’s best interest.

It is important to note that while a court can issue an order denying the parent’s request to relocate with the child, the court cannot restrict the parent’s movement. Instead, the court may amend the custody order so that the child remains in-state with the non-relocating party. 

Finally, the laws governing relocation apply even if no custody order is in place. Should a parent or custodian leave the state and take their child, the non-relocating parent may petition the court seeking the immediate return of the child, pending a hearing on relocation.

As you can see, relocation of a parent in a child custody matter is a complex area of Pennsylvania child custody law, with significant consequences for failure to comply with the law. These situations are best reviewed by a qualified family law attorney long before planning to move with children, and certainly if your move is necessitated by a family emergency, job loss, or job relocation. 
For more information on child relocation issues or any other issues regarding child custody and support cases, divorce matters, pre-marital agreements, adoptions or grandparents’ rights, feel free to contact any of Willig Williams & Davidson’s Domestic Relations and Family Law attorneys at (215) 656-3600.

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