By: Robert B. George, Esquire
Separated or divorced parents of minor children often find themselves needing or wanting to relocate with their children to another residence for one of many reasons, such as the opportunity for new employment, remarriage, or a simple desire to reside in a different climate. Whether you are the parent who is contemplating such a move or the non-relocating parent, you need to know that Pennsylvania law sets forth very specific requirements regarding relocation of minor children.
Under Pennsylvania law, before a parent with custody of children may make a move that seriously affects the custodial rights of another party with custody – whether the anticipated move is to another state or even within the same state – that parent must follow certain specified procedures, which essentially require consent of the other party or approval of the Court. Unfortunately, many parents are unaware of these requirements or unsure about how to comply with them.
Pennsylvania’s Child Custody Law defines “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 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 he or she had with the 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 focus on “distance” in relation to relocation, but instead focuses on the non-relocating parent’s ability to exercise custody after the other parent moves. In other words, only a move that has this effect on the other parent’s custody is subject to the law’s requirements. Accordingly, the distance of a move is not the only consideration. A move that does not cross state or even county lines may be deemed a relocation if the move significantly interferes with the custody arrangements of the other parent with custody.
Parents planning to relocate as defined in the Child Custody Law must satisfy strict notice requirements. For example, no later than 60 days before the proposed move, the parent must deliver to the other parent (or a third party with custodial rights) a “Notice of Proposed Relocation” via regular and certified mail, return receipt requested. This Notice must include: (i) the address and home telephone number of the intended new residence; (ii) the names and ages of the individuals now living in the new residence, including individuals who intend to continue to live in the new residence; (iii) the name of the new school district and school; (iv) the date of the proposed relocation and the reasons for the proposed relocation; and (v) a proposal for a revised custody schedule.
The relocating parent must also attach an affidavit for the non-relocating parent to complete, indicating that parent’s position on the intended move and the proposed revised custody schedule. This Notice must include a warning to the non-relocating parent that if he or she does not respond within 30 days after receipt of the Notice, he or she is prohibited from objecting to the relocation.
When a non-relocating parent opposes relocation, or the modification of his or her custody schedule, he or she must file the affidavit indicating the objection with the Court within 30 days after receipt of the Notice, and a copy to the relocating parent. The consequences of failing to meet these requirements are serious, in that a party who fails to object in a timely manner will be prohibited from opposing the relocation.
When no objection is received, the relocating party must file proof that notice was provided to the non-relocating parent, an affidavit stating that no objection was received, a petition to confirm relocation and to modify the existing custody order, and a proposed order that contains all of the information that must be provided in the Notice. 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 a hearing at which time the relocating parent will bear the burden as to his or her 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 he or she has a good faith motivation for relocating. The non-relocating parent will have the opportunity to present evidence, through witnesses’ testimony and documents, establishing reasons for the objection to the relocation. The Court will then make a determination as to whether the parent and children may relocate, based upon a variety of factors that relate to what is in the children’s best interests.
The law governing relocation applies equally even when there is no actual custody order in place between the involved and interested parties. Consequently, if a parent were to leave the state with his or her children, the non-relocating parent would have the right to file a petition with the appropriate Court seeking the issuance of an Order for the immediate return of the children, pending a hearing on the issue of the relocation.
If you find yourself involved with a potential relocation situation, it is important that you promptly consult with a qualified attorney.
The attorneys at the Law Firm of DiOrio & Sereni, LLP are experienced and available to help you. Contact Robert B. George, Esquire at 610-565-5700, or send him an e-mail at [email protected]
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