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The time after the end of a marriage or relationship can be difficult, but it can also provide the opportunity for new beginnings—including a geographic move, perhaps for a new job or to be closer to extended family. Unfortunately, if you are a parent of a minor child, with or without a child custody order, the decision about whether to move is not just up to you. Your child’s needs, and your ex-partner’s rights, must also be taken into account. Even if it is clear to you that a move out of state would benefit your child, you still need to take certain steps to make sure your decision to move will not cause problems for you later.
There is an old saying: “It’s easier to get forgiveness than permission.” This saying does NOT apply to parental relocation in custody cases. If you move with your child and do not have the permission of the other parent or the court, your decision could come back to haunt you.
Under Pennsylvania law, “relocation” is defined as “a change in the residence of a child which significantly impairs the ability of a non-relocating party to exercise custodial rights.” This means that while a move out of state almost certainly counts as “relocation,” a geographic move within Pennsylvania may count as well.
A 2012 Pennsylvania Superior Court case, C.M.K. v. K.E.M., shed some light on the issue of relocation. In that case, the mother wished to relocate from Grove City, PA to Albion, PA with the parties’ child. While the relocation was within the state, and the proposed new home was only about an hour’s drive from the old one, the Superior Court found that the trial court correctly deemed the proposed move was a relocation under the law. The reasoning was that the move would significantly impair the father’s ability to exercise his custodial rights by “breaking the continuity and frequency” of the father’s involvement with child.
In other words, it is not only the amount of parenting time that matters, but the effect the move will have on the ability of a parent to be involved in a child’s life. That is not to say that relocation will not ever be permitted if it affects the parenting time of the parent who stays behind. But such a move must be shown to be in the child’s best interests, even with the effect on parenting time.
If you suspect a move that you are planning would constitute a relocation on Pennsylvania law, you need to know what to do in order to maximize the likelihood of getting the needed approval for your move.
There are two ways to get approval for relocation: the other parent can consent, or the court can issue an order approving the relocation at one party’s request.
The first step is to provide notice to the other parent. This must be done at least 60 days before the proposed relocation, or no less than 10 days after the parent who wants to move learns of the relocation (and they could not reasonably have known in time to provide the 60-day notice, or delay the relocation date).
The notice must include certain information, such as the proposed new address, the mailing address (if different), and the names of individuals who are or plan to be living at the new address. The notice must also give the reason for the proposed relocation, the anticipated date of the relocation, proposed revisions of the custody schedule, and other information. The notice must include a warning that the non-relocating party must file any objections to the relocation within 30 days after receipt of the notice. Failure to file objections within 30 days after proper notice means that the court will consider the relocation to have been consented to by the non-relocating parent.
If the non-relocating party objects, there will be a hearing as to whether the move is in the best interests of the child. In making this determination, the court must consider the including the previous relationship between the child and non-relocating parent and whether the move will enhance the child’s general quality of life. The burden of proof is on the parent who wants to relocate, meaning they must show that the move is in the child’s best interests; the other parent does not have to prove that the move would not be in the child’s best interests.
Should you still send notice to the other parent if you’re not sure whether the move would be a relocation? The case referenced above, C.M.K. v. K.E.M., suggests that you should. In that case, the relocating mother sent a notice “just in case.” The Superior Court ruled that filing a notice is not necessarily a concession that a move is a relocation.
If you have questions about parental relocation, or need to request or oppose a relocation, you need the help of an experienced Pennsylvania family law attorney. Relocation is a fact-based determination, and a knowledgeable attorney can help present the facts in the way that best supports your position. We invite you to contact us to schedule a consultation about your parental relocation concerns.
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