By: Scott M. Orloff
If you share custody of your child or children with another adult, you should be aware of the Pennsylvania law regarding relocation of a minor child. The child custody law in Pennsylvania requires an adult to obtain either (a) the consent of every individual who has custody rights to a child or (b) court approval, before a minor child is relocated. A relocation is defined as “a change in a residence of the child which significantly impairs the ability of a non-relocating party to exercise custodial rights.”
The relocation rules apply not only to a change in a child’s residence from Pennsylvania to another state, but also to a change of a child’s residence within Pennsylvania. The change in residence could be between two different counties, or in a large county like Philadelphia County, a change of residence could be a change from one part of the county to another (for example, a move from south Philadelphia to Northeast Philadelphia could be considered a relocation).
A party proposing a relocation is required to notify every other individual who has custody rights to the child of the proposed relocation. The notice must be in writing and sent by certified mail, return-receipt requested. The notice must be given at least 60 days before the date of the proposed relocation. When giving notice of the proposed relocation, the notice must include: the address of the intended new residence, the mailing address if it is different than the address of the intended new residence, the names and ages of all individuals who will be residing in the new residence, the home telephone number of the new residence, the name of the new school district and school, the date of the proposed relocation, the reason for the proposed relocation, and a proposal for a revised custody schedule.
The party proposing the relocation is also required to provide the non-relocating parties with a form counter-affidavit which can be used by the non-relocating party to object to the proposed relocation or the proposed modifications to the custody order. The notice of relocation must also provide a warning to the non-relocating party that if the non-relocating party does not file an objection with the court within 30 days, the party will be precluded from objecting to the relocation.
If a non-relocating party objects to either the relocation or the proposed modification of the custody order, a hearing must be scheduled by the court. During a relocation hearing, the court is required to consider the “relocation factors,” which include:
1) The nature, quality, and extent of involvement and duration of the child’s relationship with the party proposing to relocate and with the non-relocating party, siblings and other significant persons in the child’s life;
2) The age, developmental stage, and 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;
3) The feasibility of preserving the relationship between the non-relocating party and the child through suitable custody arrangements, considering the logistics and financial circumstances of the parties;
4) The child’s preference, taking into consideration the age and maturity of the child;
5) Whether there is an established pattern of conduct of either party to promote or thwart the relationship of the child and the other party;
6) 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;
7) 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;
8) The reasons and motivation for each party for seeking or opposing the relocation;
9) The present and past abuse committed by a party or member of a party’s household and whether there is a continued risk of harm to the child or an abused party; and
10) Any other factor affecting the best interest of the child.
The party proposing a relocation has the burden of establishing that the relocation will serve the best interests of the child as shown under the factors.
Custody relocation cases are some of the most difficult cases that family court judges are required to decide. In many relocation cases, the proposed relocation, if granted, will prevent the non-relocating party from having regular contact with his or her child. It is important for any party who is thinking about a possible relocation to communicate with all interested parties. They should carefully consider the purpose of the relocation and any opposition to a proposed relocation before they request that the court approve a proposed relocation over the objection of a non-relocating party.
If you have any questions about Pennsylvania relocation and child custody issues, call the family lawyers at Willig, Williams & Davidson at 800-631-1233.