Many times, custody clients wonder if they need to seek permission from the other party any time they want to move. In 2010 Pennsylvania adopted the Child Custody Act. As part of that act, custody orders contain standard language about relocation. Relocation is defined in the law as “a change in a residence of the child which significantly impairs the ability of a non-relocating party to exercise custodial rights.” Essentially, it means that one parent, typically a parent with primary or shared physical custody cannot decide to move a child somewhere without proper notice and approval that will make it difficult or impossible for the other parent to have their custody time.
The term “significantly impairs the ability of a non-relocating [parent] to exercise custodial rights” is not very clear. The court has interpreted that to mean more than just interfering with custodial time. A judge will consider whether the proposed move will disrupt the non-relocating parent’s ability to co-parent, maintain the parent-child relationship, or be involved with school, teachers, and extra-curricular activities.
So if someone plans to move to a different street in the same town or to another town that would keep the distance between the child and the non-moving parent about the same and the child stays in the same school district, that is not typically considered a relocation and they would not have to seek prior approval from the other parent. If a parent wanted to move a child somewhere farther away, they need to go through the relocation process.
How the Child Custody Relocation Process Works
If one parent wants to relocate with a child, they must give formal notice to the other parent before moving with the child. The non-relocating parent has several choices when presented with a relocation notice. They can consent to the relocation and changing the custody order, consent to the relocation but not to a change in the custody order, or not agree to the relocation or a change in the custody order. Failure to give proper notice prior to relocating the child means a judge can order that a child be returned until the proper procedure is followed.
If the non-relocating parent objects to the relocation, the judge will hold a hearing to determine whether or not the proposed relocation is in the best interests of the minor child. The Pennsylvania case E.D. v. M.P. provided the 10 factors a judge will consider when deciding whether or not to permit a parent to relocate a child away from the other parent.
10 Child Custody Relocation Factors Considered by Judges
1. The nature, quality, and extent of involvement of the child with both parties and also other people who are significant in the child’s life
2. The age, developmental stage, and needs of the child that could impact the child’s physical, educational, and emotional development
3. The ease of preserving the relationship between the child and non-relocating party in terms of logistics and finances.
4. The child’s preference, depending on the child’s age
5. If the parties have a pattern of conduct that promotes or harms the relationship with the child and parties.
6. If relocation will enhance the quality of life for the relocating party (including financial, educational, or emotional benefits)
7. If relocation will enhance the quality of life for the child (including financial, educational, or emotional benefits)
8. Motivations of each party in terms of the relocation
9. Past or present abuse
10. Other factors affecting the best interest of the child
Count on Mooney
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