Parties should be aware of court requirements prior to moving with minor children. A local move may not require any additional steps to be taken other than just providing the new address to the other parent. If the move is of a significant distance and could impact the existing custody schedule additional steps must be taken prior to moving. 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.” Procedurally, the party intending to relocate should give at least 60 days’ notice or notice as soon as possible after they have knowledge of the relocation. A full hearing on the relocation should be held prior to the move if the relocation is contested. In addition to addressing the 16 factors to consider in any custody award, the moving party must also address the 10 relocation factors. The moving party has the burden of proof to show relocation will serve the best interests of the child(ren) and that there is no improper motive in seeking to move.
Failure to abide by the procedures listed in the statute has consequences. Specifically, Section 5337(j) discusses the ramifications for failure to provide adequate notice and follow the appropriate channels. The court may consider the lack of notice as a factor when making a final determination on the relocation and whether custody rights should be modified. The court can also view the lack of notice as a basis for ordering the return of the child to the jurisdiction. The court may order the party who improperly relocated to pay attorneys’ fees and expenses on behalf of the party who must initiate litigation to indicate their opposition to the relocation. The court can also treat it as a matter of contempt and impose sanctions against the moving party. Finally, 5337(l) explains the court is not permitted to confer any presumption in favor of the relocation where it occurs before the court holds a final hearing.