Steps for Custody Relocation
Section 5337 of the Domestic Relations statutes sets out the procedures and standards for relocation requests. All parties to a custody action are required to follow the procedures outlined in Section 5337 if they are moving to a distance which would make any existing custody arrangements difficult or impossible to follow. E.D. v. M.P., 2011 PA Super. 238, was one of the first cases to apply the new relocation law. In E.D. v. M.P., Mother appealed after the lower court granted Father’s relocation on the grounds that Father didn’t comply with the provisions of Sec. 5337.
The first error cited was Father’s filing of a petition and Mother’s filing of an answer. Under Sec. 5337 (c) regarding notice of relocation, the initial step procedurally is for the party requesting relocation to send notice to all other interested parties by certified mail, return receipt requested a certain number of days prior to the date set for relocation. Included with the notice should be a counter-affidavit that the opposing party can complete indicating whether or not they agree or disagree with the relocation and/or the modified schedule. If there is any opposition, a hearing will be needed. The counter-affidavit evidencing opposition should be filed with the court and served on the party requesting relocation in the same manner as received; by certified mail, return receipt requested. The next error relates to Sec. 5337 (g) which calls for a hearing to occur before relocation unless exigent circumstance exist. In E.D. v. M.P., the lower court granted Father’s request to relocate immediately without any finding or allegation of exigent circumstances.
Further, Sec. 5337(h) outlines ten (10) factors to be considered before a relocation is granted.
The party proposing relocation has the burden of establishing that the relocation will serve the best interests of the child. Each party has the burden of establishing the integrity of that party’s motives in either seeking the relocation or seeking to prevent it. The Superior Court agreed with Mother that the lower court failed to consider all the factors under Sec. 5337(h) in reaching its decision.
Ultimately, the case was remanded to the lower court for further proceedings applying the applicable laws. The decision indicates that the Superior Court will be diligent in scrutinizing decisions to determine if they have followed the provisions for all relocation matters.