The Superior Court of Pennsylvania recently issued a decision that clarifies an important issue in custody law: relocation.
The Court’s decision provides guidance as to whether a parent who wishes to move should provide formal notice to the other parent, and also as to how courts should decide whether a move constitutes a relocation.
Under Pennsylvania’s Child Custody Act, relocation is defined as “a change in residence of the child which significantly impairs the ability of a non-relocating party to exercise custodial rights.” The Act requires the parent who intends to relocate to provide formal notice to the other parent. If no notice is provided, and the court later finds that the move was a relocation, failure to provide notice could mean that the moving parent has to return the child and face sanctions.
The case, C.M.K. v. K.E.M., involved a mother who had primary custody and intended to move 68 miles from the father’s residence. To comply with the Child Custody Act, she filed a notice of relocation as a protective move. Even though the mother argued that her move did not constitute a relocation, and that she had filed the notice simply in case the court later disagreed with her, the trial court found that her filing of the notice meant she had conceded a relocation. The Superior Court reversed, holding that notice does not equate to a concession. This holding is extremely helpful to parents wishing to move. It means that relocating parents can file notices out of caution, but can still argue at trial that the move is not a relocation.
The court’s decision also sheds light on how to know if a move constitutes a relocation under the Act’s definition. Importantly, the court looked at the effects of the move on the nonmoving parent’s ability to co-parent, not just at the amount of visitation time. So being able to continue coaching the child’s sports teams, meet with teachers, and go to doctor appointments all factored in to the analysis. The court also looked at a number of factors assessing the practical effect of the move, such as whether a higher salary motivated the move and whether the move would upset existing child care arrangements.
Relocation cases will still be decided on a case-by-case basis, but the court’s decision defined the framework to analyze the facts. The decision also confirmed that a parent who plans to move should provide formal notice to the other parent without worrying about later repercussions of doing so.
If you have questions about PA’s Child Custody Act, or how clarification to the law impacts your situation, please contact the family law attorneys at Petrelli Previtera Schimmel. We can answer your questions and help you through this difficult time call us at (215) 523-6900.