The issue of parental relocation is one of the most emotionally charged in custody law. No matter which way a court rules, there’s rarely a happy ending for everyone involved. If the court permits the custodial parent to move, she’ll get her wish to start over elsewhere. But depending on how far she moves, her ex may be looking at a future where he will hardly ever see his kids, and her children may lose touch with their other parent.
Technically, Pennsylvania grants non-custodial parents and custodial parents equal rights when the custodial parent wants to relocate out of state with the children. Both parents must agree to the move; one can't leave without the approval of the other. This process begins when the custodial parent serves the non-custodial parent with official notice. Pennsylvania law requires her to do so by certified mail, return receipt requested. She must generally give notice 60 days before she moves, but some exceptions exist. If the non-custodial parent does not act within 30 days after receiving notice, he loses his right to try to block the move. If he wants to try to stop the relocation, he can file an objection with the court within 30 days. The court will schedule a trial.
A custody trial over relocation rarely wraps up in a single day. It’s a long, drawn-out affair as each parent presents his or her case, as well as witnesses and documentation to support it. When the trial begins, the moving parent has the burden of proof to show how the move will benefit her and her children. She must establish that she’s requesting permission to move for sensible reasons, not just because she prefers a warmer climate, or because she met a new Internet friend who lives in California. After she presents her case, the opposing parent has an opportunity to prove that his objection has merit. He must give good reasons why the children would be better off remaining in Pennsylvania. The custodial parent must also present a plan showing exactly how her children will maintain in contact with their other parent if the court permits her to move.
In 1990, Pennsylvania’s Superior Court decided Gruber v. Gruber, a case that had significant impact on how the court deals with these issues. Gruber guides judges as to what factors they should consider when denying or allowing a move. In the years immediately following the Gruber decision, the courts tended to favor the parent who wanted to relocate. They placed more emphasis on whether the move was good for her. However, courts have shown an increased willingness to reverse that position since 2000. The benefit to the custodial parent is still a factor, but she must now prove that it offers substantial benefit for the children as well. This gives the non-custodial parent greater opportunity to block the move, if he can prove it's more for the custodial parent's happiness than that of the children.
A Pennsylvania court can't prohibit a parent from moving, but it can rule that her children must remain behind. If a judge denies her request to relocate, the custodial parent must make a decision whether she will remain in Pennsylvania and retain custody of her children, or move and relinquish custody to their other parent. If she insists on moving, the court will issue a new custody order, changing custody to the non-custodial parent.