Relocation with Children after Divorce

After a divorce, either spouse may decide it is time to move on with his or her life, and sometimes that involves actually moving. However, when relocation after divorce involves children, it can be complicated or even impossible.

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

What are Pennsylvania’s laws on relocation with children?

Pennsylvania law, similar to numerous other states, 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 both parents consent or the court reviews and okays 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 address, if known
  • The names and ages of anyone living (or planning to live) at the new address
  • The name of the new school
  • The date of relocation
  • The reason you want to relocate
  • The proposed revised parenting plan and custody schedule

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.

What are New Jersey’s laws on relocation with children?

New Jersey law requires permission either from the other parent or through court approval if a parent wants to move a child to another state, or far enough across the state to cause a problem with the current custody agreement. This applies to children who were:

  • Born in New Jersey, or
  • Have lived in the state for at least five years

Much like the process in Pennsylvania, both parents can reach an agreement and sign a consent order showing they agree to the relocation and any applicable custody schedule changes it requires, or the parent who wishes to relocate can file paperwork with the local superior court to have the court approve the move. The other parent then has a limited time to respond. If the other parent does not respond within this time period, he or she forfeits the chance to do so.

In addition to stating the reason they want to move, parents wishing to relocate must submit a realistic and fair parenting plan proposal, and show the court that the child has comparable or better opportunities in the new area as there is in their current home. These opportunities often include:

  • Medical care providers
  • School districts
  • Recreational opportunities
  • Boy/Girl Scouts or other clubs
  • Church youth group activities, if religious

This is true even when a parent has sole custody of a child, although it is typically easier to have this type of move approved by the courts. Custodial parents hoping to relocate must show they are doing so in good faith, and that the move is a positive one for the child.

Frequently Asked Questions About Relocation with Children

There is a lot to think about when moving- packing and unpacking, finding a new home, registering for a new school. For families with parents who are no longer together, there can be another consideration important not to overlook. Relocating even just over county lines when that move could impact custody time of the non-moving party, triggers a specific area of the Pennsylvania Family Law Statute. It is important to know how to go about informing the other party of your move and in some cases how to ask court permission from the court.

Here are some Frequently Asked Questions about relocation with children:

Can we avoid court?

While it is always a good idea to file your relocation request with the court to ensure your parenting plan and custody schedule is up-to-date, the legal aspects of the relocation process are always much easier when the parents can agree on the relocation and work together to reach a fair custody agreement.

While it is not always possible, if you can discuss the possibility and agree before you file any motions, it will speed the process along and help make the whole process much easier. If this is not possible — if the other parent does not agree with the need for relocation or wants to move the children too far away from you — then enlist the help of a lawyer.

What if I just leave and don’t follow the process?

The other parent will likely file an Emergency Custody Petition with the court seeking to have the child returned.  This unilateral decision can be held against you when the court does consider whether or not to grant your request to move.

How are the words “substantial impairment” defined from the definition of relocation?

There really is no exact definition. A good rule of thumb to consider would be if the move makes it impossible or difficult for the non-moving parent to see the child under the schedule you currently have or at all, you most likely need permission to move.

How long does it take to complete the court process?

This truly depends on the county where you reside and where you must file.  Some counties are able to get the parties in for a hearing sooner than others.  There is unfortunately no way to expedite the hearing process.  If you want to plan ahead for the start of a new school year, it is best to file sooner rather than later.

What factors does the court consider?

In addition to the sixteen custody factors in the Statute, there are ten additional relocation factors.  These factors include the quality of schools at the new location, whether there are family members at the new location, the reasons why a party wishes to relocate, the willingness and ability of the relocating party to have the non-relocating party enjoy custodial time, and many others.

If you or someone you know is thinking about relocating and needs the assistance of an experienced divorce attorney, contact Petrelli Previtera, LLC today to schedule your initial consultation.

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. Contact us at (866) 465-5395 to learn more.

Further Reading