One issue that commonly arises is when a parent in a Child Custody matter wants to move to another city, county or State with a child. Under Pennsylvania law, a parent cannot “relocate” with a child unless they are given permission by the Court or the other parent has agreed. A “relocation” is defined as any change in the child’s residence that could significantly impair the ability of any non-relocating party to exercise his or her custodial rights over the same child. In late 2010 Pennsylvania law changed to establish a specific, rigid process for seeking to relocate with children. For the full language of the Custody Relocation Statute, please click here: http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/LI/consCheck.cfm?txtType=HTM&ttl=23&div=0&chpt=53&sctn=37&subsctn=0
The rules of the Relocation statute apply to parents whether or not a formal Custody Order already exists. Here are the nuts and bolts of the new law:
- Any party seeking to Relocate must provide “notice” to the non-relocating party. This notice must be served on the other party via certified mail with a return receipt. This notice, while not incredibly complex, contains the basic information concerning the parties’ intent to Relocate, and it must be served at least sixty (60) days prior to the intended Relocation.
- The Notice of Relocation is served on the non-relocating party with a blank “counter-affidavit.” The non-relocating party then has thirty (30) days within which to complete the counter-affidavit and file it with the Court. The counter-affidavit provides the non-relocating parent with several options; including whether or not they agree to the proposed Relocation. It is imperative that anyone served with a Notice of Relocation very carefully fill out and comply with the requirements of the Counter-Affidavit.
- If the Relocation is contested by the non-relocating party, then the Court will schedule a Hearing or Trial to address the issue of Relocation.
- The law contains specific factors that the Court must consider when deciding whether to grant a Relocation Petition, which include the following:
- The nature, quality, extent of involvement and duration of the child’s relationship with the party proposing to relocate and with the nonrelocating party, siblings and other significant persons in the child’s life.
- The age, developmental stage, needs of the child and the likely impact the relocation will have on the child’s physical, educational and emotional development, taking into consideration any special needs of the child.
- The feasibility of preserving the relationship between the nonrelocating party and the child through suitable custody arrangements, considering the logistics and financial circumstances of the parties.
- The child’s preference, taking into consideration the age and maturity of the child.
- Whether there is an established pattern of conduct of either party to promote or thwart the relationship of the child and the other party.
- Whether the relocation will enhance the general quality of life for the party seeking the relocation, including, but not limited to, financial or emotional benefit or educational opportunity.
- Whether the relocation will enhance the general quality of life for the child, including, but not limited to, financial or emotional benefit or educational opportunity.
- The reasons and motivation of each party for seeking or opposing the relocation.
- The present and past abuse committed by a party or member of the party’s household and whether there is a continued risk of harm to the child or an abused party.
- Any other factor affecting the best interest of the child.
The Pennsylvania Custody Relocation laws are very specific regarding the process and procedures for relocating with children. It is necessary that both parents, whether relocating or seeking to oppose a relocation, follow the law closely.