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When deciding custody, the courts in most states use the “best interests of a child” measurement to determine division of custody and visitation rights. When the parents live a significant distance from each other, whether the custodial or non-custodial parent moves, “the best interests of a child” are again brought into the equation along with other relocation factors. Unless the parents are able to come to an agreement outside of court, the court may decide to permit the move or not, and can order new custody or visitation agreements. Different states have different laws, so it’s best to review the case with a legal counsel who is familiar with your state’s law.

When the custodial parent wants to move

In order for a custodial parent to move with a child, the parent needs permission from the other parent or court approval. If you leave without either, you risk being sanctioned, which could include fines or jail time.

Pennsylvania defines “relocation with children” as a move that “significantly impairs the ability of a non-relocating party to exercise custodial rights.” Before moving, the custodial parent must notify the non-custodial parent in writing, sent by certified mail with return receipt requested, including certain specific information. The other parent has 30 days to respond. The legal details of the process can be quite complex, especially if the non-custodial parent objects.

It is best to come to an arrangement with the non-custodial parent, with both parents signing an agreement giving permission to move and renegotiating visitation. This agreement can then be submitted to the court. If you cannot come to an agreement, you will need to file a petition with the court requesting to move.

Once again, the court will weigh whether or not the move is “in the best interests of the child.” The court may decide that the move may improve the child’s situation enough to outweigh the disadvantages of having a non-custodial parent farther away. The court will then issue a new visitation order.

When the non-custodial parent wants to move

In Pennsylvania, relocation laws do not specifically cover the non-custodial parent, but that does not mean that a parent can move wherever he or she wants without concern for the law. When a non-custodial parent moves out of state, the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) comes into play, keeping all custody decisions within one state and enforcing the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act, to ensure a non-custodial parent does not abscond with the children.

Additionally, if the non-custodial parent moves anywhere without notifying the custodial parent and the court, that parent risks various consequences: being found in contempt of court, paying the custodial parent’s legal fees, being charged with “parental neglect,” and losing parental rights.

Thus, it is crucial to go over your plans with the other parent well in advance of your move and, if necessary, file a modification of child visitation with the court.

 

Regardless of which parent is planning to move, having experienced counsel to help you through the process will limit the stress on both parents and help you come to an agreement that benefits the children and that the court will approve.


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.