My ex-wife wants to move. How does this affect custody?

When divorced couples with children start their new lives separate and apart from each other, they cannot be totally free and clear from each other because they have a responsibility to co-parent. In Pennsylvania, divorced parents will usually have a custody agreement or custody order in place that governs the custody arrangement between the parents. The agreement or order will, among other things, provide for a physical custody schedule that will specifically define when each parent will have the children. There are always minor issues that arise that cause the parents to have to verbally modify the agreement to suit the particular situation. For example, one parent may be sick during that parent’s custody time, so the other parent by agreement with the sick parent may keep the children during that time, even though the custody agreement or order says otherwise. These issues are common and when they arise, they emphasize the importance of parents being able to amicably co-parent, even though their marriage was irretrievably broken. Sometimes, however, one parent wants to move or relocate to a new place. When this occurs, it can have a major impact on the practicality of the custody agreement or order. When one parent wants to move, how does it affect the custody arrangement?

The first question is how far away does the parent want to move and does that parent want to take the children with him or her? If the parent wants to move to a new location within the same school district or to a different place in or near the same neighborhood, then this may not upset the current custody agreement or order. The parents may have to make new arrangements for pickup and drop-off of the children, but the move may not adversely impact the other parent. So the real question is what happens when a parent wants to move a far distance away with the child, such as to a new county or a new state?

When one parent wants to move a far distance away, it will usually trigger the “relocation” provisions of the Pennsylvania custody law. The general rule is that a parent cannot relocate without the other parent’s consent or without court approval. If a parent decides he or she wants to relocate, then the parent must provide the other parent with notice of the proposed relocation. The Pennsylvania child custody laws require notice to be given at least 60 days prior to the proposed relocation. This will give the other parent an opportunity to consider the proposed relocation and either consent or object to it. If the parent objects, then that parent can ask the court for a temporary or permanent order to prevent the relocation. The court will then schedule a hearing in order to determine whether the relocation is permitted and how the current agreement or order should be modified.

Factors that a court will consider in determining whether to grant a proposed relocation include the nature and duration of the child’s relationship with the parent proposing the relocation; the age and needs of the child and the impact the relocation will have on the child’s development; the feasibility of preserving the non-relocating party’s relationship with the child considering logistics and financial circumstances of the parties; the child’s preference taking into consideration the age and maturity of the child; and a number of additional factors. Overall, the court will give weighted consideration to those factors that affect the safety of the child.

If the parent proposing to relocate fails to provide the other parent with the proper notice, the court may hold that against the parent. It could serve as a basis for the court to order the return of the child to the non-relocating parent and it could be grounds for contempt and the imposition of sanctions against the party proposing the relocation.

If a parent is thinking about moving, that parent should consult with a family law and divorce attorney so that the parent can take the appropriate steps. Conversely, the non-relocating parent has rights and that parent should also seek the advice and assistance of legal counsel.

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