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Relocating a PA child? Divorced/separated parents need consent or court order

When parents of children are divorced or separated, custody can be a difficult issue. When the parent who has primary custody wants to move with the child a significant distance, that can create even larger issues.  Under Pennsylvania's new child custody law, a child can only be relocated with consent of the other parent or any other person who has custodial rights to the child; or court approval. The need for consent or court approval also arises when the distantly located non-custodial parent seeks to have primary physical custody of the children in his/her distant location.

Section 5322 of Pennsylvania's Domestic Relations code defines a relocation as "a change in a residence of the child which significantly impairs the ability of a non-relocating party to exercise custodial rights."  Section 5337 states the procedure for relocation.

The parent who wants to relocate the child must give at least 60 days written notice (unless there is good reason why 60 days notice is not possible). The non-relocating parent has 30 days to object, or cannot contest the petition to relocate. The notice must include the physical and mailing address of the new residence, who will be living in the new residence, the reasons for the relocation, a proposed revised custody schedule, and any other relevant information.

The notice must also include a form in which the non-relocating parent can indicate whether he or she consents or objects to the relocation. 

If the non-relocating party consents or does not respond with an objection within 30 days, then the relocating parent must file a petition to confirm the relocation.  The court is supposed to act on such a petition in an expedited manner so that relocations to which there are no objections can move forward.

If there is an objection to the relocation or to the proposed schedule, then the court must hold a hearing on the matter.  Such hearings should be expedited to the extent possible.  In deciding on whether to allow the relocation, the court must consider these factors:

(1) The nature, quality, extent of involvement and duration of the child's relationship with the party proposing to relocate and with the non-relocating party, siblings and other significant persons in the child's life.

(2) The age, developmental stage, needs of the child and the likely impact the relocation will have on the child's physical, educational and emotional development, taking into consideration any special needs of the child. 

(3) The feasibility of preserving the relationship between the non-relocating party and the child through suitable custody arrangements, considering the logistics and financial circumstances of the parties.

(4) The child's preference, taking into consideration the age and maturity of the child.

(5) Whether there is an established pattern of conduct of either party to promote or thwart the relationship of the child and the other party.

(6) Whether the relocation will enhance the general quality of life for the party seeking the relocation, including, but not limited to, financial or emotional benefit or educational opportunity.

(7) Whether the relocation will enhance the general quality of life for the child, including, but not limited to, financial or emotional benefit or educational opportunity.

(8) The reasons and motivation of each party for seeking or opposing the relocation. 

(9) The present and past abuse committed by a party or member of the party's household and whether there is a continued risk of harm to the child or an abused party.

(10) Any other factor affecting the best interest of the child.

Parents seeking to relocate a child who fail to follow the rules can suffer severe consequences.  Failure to provide the proper notice can be grounds for the court to deny the relocation, order that custody be given to the non-relocating parent and ordering payment of attorney fees.

In short, a divorced or separated parent who wants to relocate a child must plan ahead and follow the statutory procedure or risk severe consequences.  Click this link to read the full text of section 5337 of the Domestic Relations Code.

Readers should not solely rely on this note as legal advice but should consult with a competent attorney licensed in their state. You can also find more information in our firm's websites on Family Law and Wills and Estate Planning and Administration.

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