Custody Relocation and Alternative Forms of Visitation

Pennsylvania’s custody relocation statute, 23 PA C.S. 5337, requires the party seeking relocation to get court approval or the other parent’s permission prior to relocation. A relocation is defined as any move that would “significantly impair the ability of the nonrelocating party to exercise custodial rights.” 23 Pa C.S. 5322. 25 percent of the 35 million children with separated, divorced or single parents have a parent that lives a significant distance from the other parent, limiting the amount of traditional custody time with the non-custodial parent. In addition to giving notice of the proposed relocation and petitioning the court if the other party won’t consent, the party seeking relocation is to submit a proposed order outlining the custody schedule in the event of a relocation. As with any custody decision, the party seeking relocation must show how the relocation is in the child’s best interests. A party seeking relocation should use the proposed order to demonstrate their genuine intent to ensure the nonrelocating party will still have a strong relationship with the child(ren) as a Judge will usually believe maintaining a strong parent-child relationship is in the child’s best interests. This responsibility to prove that a strong parent-child relationship will continue has become easier with the development of social media and video calling services. In fact, the term “virtual visitation” has been coined to describe the opportunities for parents and children to remain touch through the use of technology.

There are several different programs that make it easy for people who live in different places to stay in touch. Skype has become a popular service which allows people to see each other while talking to one another other the internet. FaceTime is a software program available on many cell phones which also allows simultaneous live video streaming in the context of a phone call. Many use Facebook to keep in touch by sharing photos, sending messages, etc. It is now commonplace to include terms for virtual visitations in custody orders where the parents live in different places. Such an order would lay out how often the virtual visits will occur and how long they will last (i.e. Parties will Skype on Tuesdays at 8pm for 30 minutes). A Judge may even order a party to get the appropriate software or equipment to ensure such virtual visitation can take place if they do not have the necessary components already. Several states have laws on the books expressly governing virtual visitation. While Pennsylvania does not expressly reference virtual visitation in its statutes, Judges in the Commonwealth have been including provisions on virtual visitation in custody orders made in the context of relocation.

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