A game changer for many parents in the area of custody occurred in January 2011 when Act 11 of 2010 (the new Pennsylvania Custody Statute) went into effect. The new Custody Statute included an important new section, 23 Pa.C.S. § 5337, titled, "Relocation." The new Relocation law which codified years of case law on the subject is important because its impacts all parents. The requirements of the Relocation law do not apply simply those parents who file for custody and may have a custody order. Parents who were able to avoid utilizing the court system and the law to resolve custody issues suddenly, and for the first time, were required to interact with the legal system. Many parents who were unaware of the new law were nevertheless pulled into court on alleged violations of the new law's requirements. As a result, an understanding of the Relocation law and its requirements is vital for any parent with a family dynamic that includes two parents who do not reside in the same home.
According to the Relocation Statute, if a parent wants to relocate with any children, then that parent must take specific steps to notify the other parent and provide an opportunity to approve or reject the move. Yes! You read that correctly. Pursuant to this law, you cannot relocate without the permission of the other parent or, if the other parent is being unreasonable, then the court.
The law defines relocation as "a change in a residence of the child which significantly impairs the ability of the nonrelocating party to exercise custodial rights." To date, the courts have not provided a clear test for determining when custodial rights are significantly impaired. We know, however, that the court will take into consideration how the move will impact travel time, the ability of the nonrelocating parent to attend events like baseball games and dance recitals, the ability to participate in parent-teacher conferences, and whether the move will force a reduction in the nonrelocating parent's custodial time with the child. As a result, even a short move may qualify as a relocation if the move places limitations on the other parent's ability to continue parenting at the present level.
Unless there are exigent circumstances, at least 60 days before the proposed move, via certified mail return receipt requested, you need to notify any and all persons with custodial rights of the move. In certain cases, this may include people other than the other parent. For example, you will need to notify someone who i s in loco parentis to the children, such as a grandparent or aunt and uncle caring for the child. The notice must include specific information, including the address of the new residence, the names and ages of every person living in the household, the school the child will be attending, the reasons for the move, and a proposed custody schedule. You must also provide the other parent with the documentation needed to object to the move. The non-relocating parent will have 30 days to object to the move and/or your proposed custody schedule. A failure to properly object, however, may be deemed an approval of the relocation.
If the other parent files an objection (in the form a "counter-affidavit"), however, the court will promptly schedule a relocation hearing to determine whether the parent seeking relocation will be permitted to move with the children. At this hearing, the relocating parent will have the burden of proof. This means that it is that relocating parent's responsibility to convince the judge that the relocation, despite any negative impact on the other parent's custodial rights, is in the child's best interests. Proving the best interests of the child is more of an art than a science. Section 5337(h) provides a list of ten factors the court must consider in evaluating whether to approve a relocation.
The attorneys of Wolf Baldwin and Associates, P.C. are prepared to offer experienced and knowledgeable representation of our clients at each stage of the relocation process. Regardless of whether you are the relocating or the non-relocating parent, we can help you navigate the procedural maze surrounding a proposed relocation and advocate for the best interest of your children. If you are planning on moving with your children and believe you may be subject to the requirements of the Relocation Statute, please contact our office for a consultation. It is important to have an attorney review the unique facts of your case and ensure strict compliance with the notice requirements. It is also never too early to begin to prepare for a relocation hearing.