Relocation with Children after Divorce in Pennsylvania
After a divorce in Pennsylvania, either spouse may decide it is time to move on with his or her life, and sometimes that involves actually moving. However, the situation is more complicated when relocation after divorce involves children. In this guide to Pennsylvania’s child custody relocation laws, we will provide an overview of the state’s laws regarding child custody relocation, including the legal requirements for relocation, how to file a relocation petition, and how a court will decide the issue. We hope that this resource will help you better understand your rights and responsibilities as a parent seeking to relocate with your child in Pennsylvania.
Common reasons parents wish to move away from the other co-parent, and to a new location, include:
- A job transfer or new job
- To be near relatives
- A new relationship or marriage
- Better educational opportunities
- Access to better medical care
Pennsylvania’s Laws on Relocation with Children
If you are a parent or caregiver in Pennsylvania, are the primary caregiver, or the one with whom the children spend most of their time, and you are not living in the same home as a co-parent, you cannot simply relocate. Whether you are moving across county lines, state lines, to the other side of the country or around the world, you must follow Pennsylvania’s relocation law, which applies whether or not you have a custody order from the court. Even if you have never been to court and never filed for custody, the relocation law could apply to your move.
Pennsylvania law defines relocation as moving a child to a new home in a location that makes it difficult for the other parent to visit the child(ren) as often as the custody agreement allows. This could mean relocating to another state hundreds of miles away, or just moving a few hours away. The distance required to warrant a relocation hearing or agreement depends heavily on the current custody arrangement.
In some cases, both parents agree to the relocation with only minor alterations to the parenting plan. In other cases, the court must determine what is best for the child.
Pennsylvania law bars relocation unless either or both parents consent or the court reviews and approves the relocation. Pennsylvania requires the parent wishing to relocate to the other parent by certified mail at least 60 days before the move. You must submit this same notification to the court along with the proper paperwork to request a modification to your custody schedule.
This notification must include information about the new home, including:
- The date that you plan to move
- The reason you are relocating
- The address you intend to move to
- Your mailing address after the move>
- Your phone number after the move (if available)
- The names and ages of everyone who will live in the new residence
- The name of the new school district and the school the children will be attending
- Any other relevant information
You will also need to include a revised custody schedule and a counter-affidavit. You must advise you ex that he has 30 days to reply. He can either agree with your proposal, or he can file the counter-affidavit with the family court. If the other parent objects to the relocation and/or change in the custody schedule, he or she must file a counter-affidavit. There is a 30-day time limit to file this objection. If this occurs, the court will schedule a hearing to determine if the move is in the best interests of the child.
How the Court Will Evaluate Your Relocation Request
If your ex objects to the move, he must let the court know by filing the counter-affidavit. The court must then hold a hearing. It is up to you to show that relocating is in the best interest of your children.
The court will base its decision on ten factors:
- The nature, quality, extent of involvement and duration of the child’s relationship with each parent, siblings, and others who play a significant role in the child’s life
- The age, developmental stage, and needs of the child and the effect that the relocation will have on the child’s physical, educational and emotional development and any special needs
- The feasibility of the child maintaining a relationship with the non-relocating parent after the move
- The child’s preference (based on the age and maturity of the child)
- Whether there has been a pattern of one parent trying to undermine the child’s relationship with the other parent
- How the move will enhance the relocating parent’s quality of life
- How the move will enhance the child’s quality of life
- The reason that the parent is seeking to relocate and the reason that the other parent is objecting
- Any history of abuse by a parent or household member and any risk of continued harm
- Any other factors that affect the best interest of the child
Your divorce shouldn’t stop you from pursuing your career, from moving closer family, or from relocating with a new spouse. If your ex objects to your plans, you may need the assistance of a Pennsylvania child custody attorney. The attorney will help you prepare your notice of intent to relocate and/or present your case to the court. To learn more, please contact Petrelli Previtera at (866) 465-5395.
Questions to Ask Yourself Before Moving
The relocation law is one of Pennsylvania’s more complicated family law statutes and it is important to discuss how to proceed with your attorney. When speaking to your attorney, a few things to consider are:
- Is your move really a relocation?
How much would your move affect the other parent’s commute to see the children? Will he or she be separated from their child by a multi-hour drive or a plane ride?
- Why do you want to move?
The courts will determine whether or not your relocation is in the best interest of the child. The judge will want to hear about where you want to move, the schools and doctors your child will go to, and why your proposed new life will be beneficial for your child.
- When are you planning to move?
Pennsylvania’s statute requires a relocating party to notify the other party and the court per a specified timeline. The sooner you talk to your attorney and file the proper documentation, the better off you will be and the more chance you will have at a successful bid for relocation.
Frequent Questions about Pennsylvania’s Relocation Laws:
What Clarification has the Court Provided About PA’s Relocation Laws?
The Superior Court of Pennsylvania issued a 2012 decision that clarifies an important issue in custody law: relocation.
The Court’s decision provided 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 non-moving 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 into 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. We can answer your questions and help you through this difficult time, call us at 866-465-5395.
Contact Our Firm for Assistance
Whether you are hoping to relocate or the other parent wants to move your children away, Petrelli Previtera, LLC can represent you and your child’s best interests. We have offices across Pennsylvania to assist with your child custody and relocation concerns including Doylestown, Abington, Norristown, Philadelphia, and West Chester. Contact us at (866) 465-5395 to learn more.