More and more, relocation of children is a custody issue in the courts. Where both parents have custody and one of them gets an opportunity in another part of the state or country, a family law judge has a difficult decision to make. Pennsylvania’s custody laws dealing with relocation continued to evolve until 2012, when the Pennsylvania legislature passed a new custody statute that codified much of the case law and added some procedures. Let’s take a look at a set of facts that are common today and see how Pennsylvania judges would analyze the situation.
Mom and Dad have three children. They divorced but remained near each other and continued to share responsibilities for the children, including doctor visits and PTA meetings..
Mom and Dad both are professionals who work at large corporations.
Neither parent has time to take off.
One of them was always there for the children.
They were happy…until the day that one of them received a job offer in another state. Now what?
First, the parent who wishes to relocate must service notice. If the other, nonrelocating parent objects, he or she must file a counter-affidavit listing the objection(s) with the court.
Pennsylvania’s custody statute dealing with relocation is found at 23 Pa. C.S. sec. 5337. One factor in custody decisions is stability and consistency. Given a choice between disrupting the lives of the children or keeping their lives the same as they had been, Pennsylvania courts will choose to keep the children’s lives as stable as possible. This may mean denying a relocation to keep the children in the same school. In the example that I have given, both parents have the same amount of time to give the children and both give that time willingly. If the one parent will have more money at a new job at a new location, the children would be better off. But they might be better off staying in the same location with the relocating parent taking the better paying job. In this situation, the courts will look to the 5337(h)(3), which states that the court must consider “the feasibility of preserving the relationship between the nonrelocating party and the child through suitable custody arrangements, considering the logistics and financial circumstances of the parties.” To put it another way, if it will possible to give the nonrelocating parent the same amount of time with the children, the move may be in the best interests of the children. Another factors is going to be the school districts.
But if greater opportunities are available for the children in the new location, the Courts will allow the children to be relocated. The opportunities could be anything, but often the strongest are educational.
Some of the other factors for custody include such things as:
1) extended family, siblings, friends and a support network as well as the willingness of one parent to include the other in the child’s life as much as possible;
2) the duties toward the children that each parent performs, such as driving them to school each day and making accommodations for special needs or abuse perpetrated by one parent against the children.
3) the preference of the children. These are considered in light of the maturity and reasoning of the child.
Does it matter, do you think, that Mom and Dad are not married? What about whether it is Mom or Dad who wishes to relocate to another state?
No, these issues are irrelevant from a legal standpoint. If Mom and Dad do not mind paying more in taxes, they can stay together without marrying.
The important issue is the town to which Mom or Dad wishes to relocate. If Mom and Dad feel inspired by the Unabomber to move to a log cabin in one of the more remote parts of a less developed state, live without electricity or running water, and refuse to teach the children mathematics, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania will likely grant custody to the other parent.
If Mom or Dad currently reside in Langhorne, Newtown or Doylestown in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and one of them wishes to relocate to Camden or Newark, New Jersey, where the current violent crime rate is fairly high compared to Bucks County, the Commonwealth will most likely try to keep the children in Bucks County.
On the other hand, if the parent who wishes to relocate with the children will be in a good suburb of San Francisco or a town in the Catskills in New York, the decision will be much more difficult to make. Do the children have any family in the new location? Are the schools there better?
In summary, relocation cases present tough decisions for judges to make. Good representation of the case is important. In Pennsylvania, a relocation case can take a full year to make it through the court system. Such cases start in the family master’s office. The family master will work hard to get the parties to come to an agreement before sending the case on through the system.
The best answer of all is for the parties to get two experienced attorneys to negotiate an agreement without ever going to the family master. Mediation is also a great alternative. The key is for both parties to realize that the other party has rights and be ready to negotiate. A mediator or two attorneys can draft an agreement that is the same as what the court system will order, but the parties will walk away with more money in their pockets and an agreement that each is happy with.
The Law Office of Brian E Sipe handles relocation cases. Negotiating a custody schedule without an extended fight is always priority number one. But sometimes the parties themselves do not know whether the new town and state compares favorably with the current town in Pennsylvania. In that case, research and even an expert opinion may be necessary. Don’t go it alone. Get an attorney on your side!
Article on Custody and Relocation
If you are going through a relocation case in Pennsylvania, read this article.
This article from Pittsburgh’s Post Gazette reviews the law and the difficulties people face on both sides of the argument. Inspired by pending legislation on the topic that would affect the
case law set out in Gruber v. Gruber, this article details the heartbreak encountered by by custodial and non-custodial parents.
Is a better quality of life for the custodial parent a good enough reason for allowing that parent to move the children away from the non-custodial parent? What rights does the
non-custodial parent have? What are the judges of Pennsylvania really thinking?