Custody & Moving…What you need to know

Many of my clients ask me what is required when they move from one county to another, and even from state to state regarding the custody of their children.  In Pennsylvania, the process is called relocation and is almost as involved as custody itself.

It is clear that when a parent who does not have primary custody relocates, that parent bears the responsibility of maintaining regular contact with the child and must seek modification of the existing order to accommodate the move and to arrange the partial custody schedule for the convenience of the parties and the child.

Where a primary custodial parent relocates, that parent should bring the move to the attention of the court and modify the order to accommodate the move. The process moves faster than a custody action.  Depending on the county, the parent looking to relocate must file a Petition to Relocate and must serve the non-moving party.  With the Petition, the Parent must also include a form that allows the other party to either accept the move or not accept the move and request a hearing.  This hearing is given a “fast track” for scheduling, since most people move for work, which start dates happen quickly.

Certain questions must be answered before the court will modify the order to permit relocation.

1. The potential advantages of the move and the likelihood that the move will significantly improve the quality of life for the custodial parent and the child, and is not the result of a momentary whim on the part of the custodial parent.

2. The integrity of the motives of both the custodial parent and the non custodial parent in either seeking the move or opposing the move.

3. The availability of alternative, realistic substitute visitation or partial custody arrangements must be explored. An ongoing, positive relationship between the non custodial parent and the child should be maintained.

However, in most cases, unless it can be established that the motivation for the move is to deny a relationship between the non custodial parent and the child, the courts are unlikely to stop a relocation.

Where there is a shared custody arrangement (for instance, a near equal sharing of custody) the positive aspects of the relocation must strongly outweigh the negative effects of disrupting the existing arrangements.

Don’t let the process fool you.  This is just as involved, if not more so, than a custody matter.  You are asking the Court to take the child(ren) out of the court’s jurisdiction.  The court must do it’s due diligence to make sure the best interests of the child(ren) are being sought.  Make sure you consult with an attorney before beginning the process.  There are many pitfalls that can cause not just delay, but even the loss of custody rights when not followed.

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