Weekly updates on family law topics by Brian C. Vertz | Partner
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Custody Relocation

Custody relocation or “move-away” cases arise when one parent wishes to move to another state or another country, or sometimes, even to a different school district within the same county. Everyone has a constitutional right to move freely, but when a divorced or separated parent moves, their move affects the children and the other parent. Our courts do not have the right to prohibit parents from moving, but they can order the children to stay, so the practical effect is a restriction on the movement of divorced or separated parents. The new custody law enacted in 2010 contain specific provisions dealing with custody relocation cases, a departure from prior law that was governed by judicial precedents.

Can I move away with custody of my child?

The custody law in PA provides that a parent must get consent from the other parent or the court before making any move that would significantly impair the ability of the non-relocating parent to exercise custodial rights. Staying within the same school district would seem to be safe. Anything else might require permission from the court or the other parent, even if there is no custody order in the first place. Before making a move that might be admonished by the courts, a relocating parent should consult with a Pittsburgh custody lawyer.

How do Pennsylvania courts judge custody relocation cases?

Under the new law, a parent who intends to move away must give written notice by certified mail at least 60 days in advance (or 10 days if it is an emergency and the move cannot be delayed). The written notice must provide specific details about the move, including the new address and phone number, who will live there, the name of the new school, the date of the move, the reason for the move, and a proposed custody schedule for the parent who is not moving. The parent who is not moving has 30 days to file a written objection, which will trigger an expedited court hearing. The law also contains a list of factors that the court must consider when deciding whether to allow the children to move, including:

  • the children’s relationships with the moving parent, the non-moving parents, siblings and other family members
  • the impact of the move on the child’s education and emotional development
  • the feasibility of maintaining a relationship with the parent who is not moving
  • the children’s preference
  • each parent’s efforts to promote or hinder the child’s relationship with the other parent
  • the financial, educational and emotional benefits of the move for the parent and child
  • past and present abuse
  • other factors

The relocating parent has the burden to prove that the proposed move is in the child’s best interests.

Custody move-away cases have been some of the most dramatic and controversial decisions that our courts make for many years. The new law was intended to clarify the proper considerations to guide the judges and parents in their decision-making. Unfortunately, too many parents do not know that they must notify the other parent and get permission from the courts before moving. Our courts have the power to stop a parent’s move or even bring the child back from the move if the proper procedures have not been followed.