An all too common scenario when parents are separating in anticipation of divorce is one parent moving a considerable distance from the marital home. A considerable distance could mean a different city or a new state. When a child or children are involved, the moving parent must first take legal steps; otherwise, they may violate the Pennsylvania child custody laws. If a parent relocates a child without the other parent’ knowledge or consent, a court could provide remedies to the other parent.
Under Section 5337 of the Pennsylvania child custody law, no parent can relocate with the child unless the other parent consents to the proposed relocation or the court approves the relocation. Relocation is not truly defined in the statute, but the term “relocation” would alost certainly include a move of considerable distance that could impact the child’s best interests or infringe upon the other parent’s custody rights. If a parent wants to relocate, he or she must first give written notice to the other parent. This will give the other parent a warning of what the other parent intends to do and it gives the parent the right to formally object. When the parent objects, he or she can ask the court for a temporary order to prevent the relocation and then a hearing will be scheduled so the court can review evidence and hear testimony to make a determination whether the relocation is in the best interests of the child.
If a parent wants to relocate, he or she must understand the factors that the court will consider in determining whether the relocation is permissible. Those factors include:
- The child’s relationship with the parent proposing to relocate and the other parent;
- The age of the child and the impact the relocation may have on the child’s development;
- The likelihood of preserving the relationship between the child and the non-relocating parent including logistics and financial considerations;
- The child’s preference, taking into account the child’s age and maturity;
- Whether any patterns of conduct exist by either parent to interfere with the child’s relationship with the other parent;
- Whether the relocation will enhance the general quality of life for the child;
- The reasons and motivation for the proposed relocation;
- Any evidence of past or present abuse; and
- Any other relevant factors.
Clearly, the court will want to hear testimony from the relocating parent that addresses all of these factors. Usually, a relocating parent will want to move for a new job, to be closer to extended family, and/or to move on from an abusive past. These are all valid reasons, but the court will want to also consider each of the aforementioned factors. Therefore, if a parent wants to relocate for reasons other than the best interests of the child, e.g. spite or revenge, then the court will most likely not allow the relocation.
Parents who wish to relocate should contact an attorney well in advance of the date of the proposed relocation. This will give the parent and his/her attorney enough time to discuss the situation and establish the likelihood that a court will consider the relocation permissible. In addition, the attorney can make sure that notice is properly delivered to the other parent and the attorney, with the help of the relocating parent, can prepare for a hearing in order to address each of the factors in a manner that it advantageous to the relocating parent. These cases always boil down to the best interests of the child and parents who wish to relocate must always ask themselves whether their relocation truly does benefit their child.