Child custody and divorce cases can be highly contentious for both parties. Some parents wish to move away to avoid the stress of contact with the other parent. And, in some cases, the parent may want to move to limit the parent's contact with the child. This can be damaging to the child, and Pennsylvania custody decisions are made according to the child's best interests. Consequently, parents who wish to relocate must follow a specific procedure, and the court will not always permit relocation of the child.
Types of Custody
Pennsylvania custody orders address two types of custody. Legal custody determines who makes decisions regarding the child. For example, joint legal custody requires that parents make decisions together. Physical custody governs the child's place of primary residence. A primary physical custodian is the parent who provides the child's primary residence. Parents may also have joint physical custody. Parents seeking to relocate must propose an alternative custody plan. When parents share custody, relocating may make it difficult to share in decision-making, and joint physical custody may be impossible. Courts are unlikely to permit a parent to move with a child if she is not the primary physical custodian.
Notification of Relocation
In 2011, Pennsylvania passed a new custody law providing specific criteria for parents wishing to relocate. The parent wanting to move must send a "notice of intent to relocate" to the other parent and any other parties with custodial rights, along with a blank affidavit that the other parent can use to dispute the move. The notice must also contain an alternative custody plan. The other parent has 30 days to fill out the affidavit disputing the move and file it with the court that issued the custody order in the case.
Factors for Consideration
Because custody decisions are made according to a child's best interests, there is a presumption within the law that the current custody arrangement is best for the child. Thus the alternative custody arrangement must preserve the child's relationship with the other parent as much as possible. If one parent disputes the move, a judge will consider a variety of factors in determining whether to authorize the move. These factors include the desires of the child, the ability of the parent to foster an ongoing relationship with the other parent, whether the move is in the child's best interests and the reason for the move.
If the other parent disputes the move, a judge will hold a hearing at which both parties may submit evidence and argue their case. If you wish to move, you should supply evidence that the move is in the child's best interest. For example, if you are moving to an excellent school district or a place with good job opportunities, supply evidence of this. The other parent will also be permitted to submit evidence that the move is not in the child's best interests. This might include evidence that the move is designed to interfere with visitation or that the move will cause financial problems. After hearing evidence, the judge will issue a final order authorizing or denying the move, as well as itemizing a new custody and visitation schedule. Failure to comply with this order is contempt of court.