Under the Custody Statute in Pennsylvania, relocation occurs when a parent, whether or not a custody order is in force, decides that he or she wishes to move, taking a minor child such a distance from his or her current home that it “significantly impairs the ability of a non-relocating party to exercise custodial rights.” A party wishing to relocate must complete, file and serve a notice of proposed relocation upon the other party, together with a counter-affidavit. The counter-affidavit provides the other party with the opportunity to object to the proposed relocation. If the non-relocating party does not object within thirty days of receipt of the initial notice, a petition to confirm relocation is filed with the court and the relocation is approved. If, however, an objection is filed, the court will schedule the matter before a Judge and it will be litigated.
Of course, there are also other options – a party may agree with the relocation and an agreement may be drafted and signed; or the parties can decide to participate in mediation or a collaborative process to address the issues outside of court and arrive at an understanding.
Some Questions about relocation are:
- What if I just leave and don’t follow this process?
The other parent will likely file an Emergency Custody Petition with the court and endeavor to obtain a court order directing that the child be returned to the county where the child previously resided.
- How are the words “substantial impairment” defined from the definition of relocation?
There is no exact definition. However, it is safe to say that if there is a custody order, and a parent has a set schedule which will be made impractical or impossible by the other parent’s move, you will need court permission. Even if there is no court order – if the move impairs the other parent’s rights to reasonable contact with the child, you need a relocation order.
- What factors does the court consider?
There are specific factors the court must consider and they are spelled out in the Relocation Statute. While not a complete list, the factors include the quality of schools at the new location, whether there are family members at the new location, the reasons why a party wishes to relocate, the willingness and ability of the relocating party to have the non-relocating party enjoy custodial time, and many others.
Relocation is a complex issue in Pennsylvania. It is best to err on the side of caution when deciding whether a relocation issue is present in your intended move. If you are considering relocating due to a job or other opportunity, seek the advice of a good family lawyer. For more information or to discuss custody and relocation concerns, contact our office today!