Custody Relocation in Pennsylvania

Custody battles involving relocation of a child can be difficult. One parent is afraid that the move will disrupt their relationship with the child. The other believes that the move will allow them to improve their (and the child’s) life – and resents their x’s attempt to control their life.

Years ago, relocation was a tactic parents could use to re-litigate past custody battles – take the child to another state, and start a new custody case there. Currently, because of federal and uniform state laws, that isn’t much of a factor. The state which was the child’s home state before the move will remain the home state, in most circumstances, for at least 6 months after the child moves. The courts in the home state will decide whether relocation is in the child’s best interest.

In Pennsylvania, when there is an existing custody order, the Child Custody Act (23 Pa.C.S. § 5337) says that a parent cannot relocate a child unless either the other parent or a court approves the proposed relocation. 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.” A move which involves only a short distance would not be considered a relocation – we are normally concerned only about moves that involve enough distance to require a change in the custody schedule.

Unless there is an emergency situation, the parent proposing to relocate must give a written notice to the other parent at least 60 days before the move. Among other information, the notice must include a proposal for a revised custody schedule. The other party has the right to file an objection with the court, either seeking to block the relocation, or requesting a hearing on a new visitation schedule. If an objection is filed, the court is required to hold a hearing on an expedited basis.

The Pennsylvania statute lists a number of factors which must be considered. These include the following, which I’ve attempted to re-write into plain English:

(1) The child’s relationships with both parents, and with the other significant persons in the child’s life.

(2) The age, and needs of the child and the likely impact the relocation will have on the child.

(3) The feasibility of preserving the relationship with the other parent, though modified custody arrangements.

(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) The effect that relocation would have on the party seeking the relocation, including, but not limited to, financial or emotional benefit or educational opportunity.

(7) The effect that relocation would have on the child.

(8) The reasons and motivation of each party for seeking or opposing the relocation.

(9) 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.

(10) Any other factor affecting the best interest of the child.

The final factor is simply a statement of the standard which the court uses in any custody case.

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