Pennsylvania Custody Relocation: What You Need to Know

If you have a child subject to a Pennsylvania custody order and are considering moving, you need to be aware of the Pennsylvania law regarding relocation. Relocating when a custody order is in place is not as simple as just packing up and moving to a new home. Regardless of whether you want to move out of Pennsylvania or just the next county over, the relocation statute sets forth several requirements that must be met before you are permitted to move with your child.

What is Considered a “Relocation” under Pennsylvania Child Custody Law?

a picture that shows what relocation means for families in divorce

Relocation is defined as “a change in a residence of the child which significantly impairs the ability of a nonrelocating party to exercise custodial rights.” 23 PA.C.S. §5322. While the law does not set forth an exact distance that qualifies as relocation, any move that would make it difficult for the other parent to follow the custody schedule and exercise their custody time would be labeled as a relocation. This may mean that a move that does not cross state or even county lines could be considered a relocation if it significantly impacts the custody rights of the other parent.

Co-parenting is not be easy, and it can become even more difficult when you live far apart from the other parent. This is why the relocation statute, Pennsylvania statute 23 Pa.C.S. §5337, requires that the moving parent either a) obtain the consent of the non-moving parent or b) receive court approval before moving with a minor child.

Pennsylvania Custody Law Requires You to First Notify the Non-Moving Parent of Your Intent to Relocate  

a photo that explains that you must notify the other parent if you plan to relocate during a divorceThe relocation statute requires that any party intending to move with a minor child first notify the other parent of their intent to do so. The notice must be sent via certified mail with return receipt requested, and should include the following information: new address, new contact number, new school district, names of people living at new residence, date of proposed move, reasons for move, and a modification proposal for a new custody schedule.

The timing of the notice is very important. It must be given a) 60 days before the date of the intended move, or b) 10 days after the date the moving parent knows of the relocation, if they could not have reasonably known in time to comply with the 60-day requirement and it is not possible to delay the move to comply with the 60-day requirement.

It is imperative that you provide the other parent with proper notice of your intent to relocate. Failure to do so could be detrimental to your case. The court could consider your failure to notify as a factor when making its determination about whether to permit your relocation and grant your request for modification of the current custody order. Additionally, the court could find you in contempt and impose sanctions and/or order you to pay the attorney fees of the other parent if they object to your relocation.

The Non-Moving Parent has a Right to Objection to Your Relocation in Pennsylvania Child Custody Cases 

a photo that shows that both parents must be in agreement before a parent chooses to relocateOnce you have provided notice to the non-moving party, you are not automatically permitted to relocated. You must wait for a response from the other parent, who has the option to object to the relocation. Along with the notice, you must send the opposing  party a counter-affidavit form that advises the other parent that they have thirty (30) days to object.

If the opposing party does not wish to object, then they will indicate as such on the counter-affidavit and file that with the court. If there is no objection made, then the non-moving parent should file a document with the court confirming the relocation. This document should include proof of the notice sent to the other parent and a petition asking the court to confirm the relocation and modify the custody order as requested.

If the non-moving parent wants to object to the relocation and/or a modification of the existing custody order, then he or she must fill out the counter-affidavit noting their objection and file it with the court. If the non-moving parent does not object within thirty (30) days, they will be precluded from objecting to the relocation and the court will assume they consent.

If an objection is received, the court will schedule a hearing before a judge. If the non-moving parent does not object to the relocation but does object to a modification of the current custody order, then that parent can request that a hearing be held before or after the relocation occurs, whichever they prefer. If the non-moving parent objects to both the relocation and a modification of the current order, then they can request that a hearing be held as soon as possible before either the move or modification occurs.

Pennsylvania Courts are Required to Consider Several Factors to Determine Whether to Permit a Relocation with a Child

a picture that explains that a judge will not allow relocation unless it is in the best interest of the childAt a relocation hearing, the court will hear testimony and review evidence from both parties as to why the relocation and modification of the custody order should or should not be permitted. The parent seeking the relocation has the burden to prove that the move is in the best interests of the child(ren).

In making its determination of whether to allow or prohibit the relocation, the court must consider the following ten (10) factors:

  • The relationship of the child(ren) with the moving party, non-moving party, siblings, and any other significant persons;
  • The likely impact the relocation will have on the child(ren)’s educational and emotional development;
  • The practicality of preserving the relationship between the child(ren) and the non-moving party;
  • The child(ren)’s preference;
  • Whether either parent has shown a pattern of trying to ruin the child(ren)’s relationship with the other parent;
  • Whether the relocation will enhance the quality of life for the parent seeking the relocation;
  • Whether the relocation will enhance the quality of life for the child(ren);
  • The reasons and motivations of each party for seeking or objecting to the relocation;
  • Any present or past abuse by either party and risk of continued harm to child(ren); and
  • Any other factor affecting the best interest of the child(ren).

Relocation cases are often some of the toughest cases for a judge to decide because the ramifications of the court’s decision can be quite significant. A decision to permit a relocation could result in a custody schedule that reduces the amount of time the non-moving parent has with the child(ren). This is why it is important to thoughtfully consider a relocation and thoroughly discuss same with everyone involved.

The Pennsylvania relocation statute is extremely important if you or the other parent are considering a move while involved in a child custody case. The experienced family law attorneys at Cooley & Handy can help you navigate through this process.