Improper Custody Relocation
23 PA C.S. 5337 is Pennsylvania’s custody relocation statute which requires any party seeking to move with minor children to get court approval or the other parent’s permission prior to the relocation. A relocation is defined as any move that would “significantly impair the ability of the nonrelocating party to exercise custodial rights.” A move that is only a few miles away would not count as a relocation. Procedurally, the party intending to relocate must give at least 60 days’ notice, or notice as soon as possible, of the intended move. The party would include a counter-affidavit with the notice which allows the non-moving party to designate their position. If the move is contested a hearing on whether or not the relocation should be granted should be held prior to the move. In addition to addressing the 16 factors as to what’s in the child’s best interests required in any custody case, the moving party must also address 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. 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 attorney’s 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.