Child Custody and Relocation in Pennsylvania

Learn how judges decide whether to approve a parent's request to move with a child after divorce.

By , Attorney · Harvard Law School
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Coparenting can be difficult, even when your child's other parent lives just a few miles away. It comes as no surprise that when one parent wants to move out of state, coordinating child visitation can seem like a monumental task. The parent who wants to move may be doing so for good reasons—a great job, better schools, proximity to family—but to the nonmoving parent, it can feel like the other parent is threatening your relationship with your children. Courts have a tough decision to make when deciding whether to allow a parent to move out of state with minor children. This article will explain how Pennsylvania judges treat child custody when one parent wants to relocate.

Giving Notice of Relocation

Pennsylvania courts determine custody based on what is in the child's best interest. In Pennsylvania, no parent can relocate to another area unless either every person with custodial rights consents to the proposed relocation, or a judge approves the relocation.

If a parent wants to relocate with a child, that parent must give every other individual with custodial rights (usually just the other parent, but sometimes other relatives or third parties) notice of the proposed relocation at least 60 days before the planned move, if possible. If the moving parent doesn't know about the relocation 60 days prior to the move, that parent must still give notification within 10 days of finding out about the relocation.

A parent proposing to move with a child must provide the other parent with certain information, including:

  • the new address and home phone number where the parent will be living
  • the mailing address, if different from the physical address
  • the names and ages of everyone who will be living at the new address
  • the child's new school district and school
  • the proposed relocation date
  • the parent's reasons for relocation
  • a proposed new custody and visitation schedule, and
  • any other information which would be relevant to the proposed relocation.

If the nonmoving parent doesn't respond to this notice within 30 days, they may waive the right to object to the relocation. For this reason, it's extremely important to contact a family law attorney immediately if you receive notice that your child's other parent wants to move with the child.

How Pennsylvania Courts Decide Whether to Approve Child Relocation

When the custodial parent wants to move out of state, the court must attempt to minimize the impact on the noncustodial parent's relationship with the child as much as possible. Judges will weigh the custodial parent's desire to make decisions that directly affect the children, along with the noncustodial parent's interest in playing a role in the child's upbringing and ability to maintain a meaningful relationship with the kids.

The court must consider three factors when determining whether to grant a parent's request to relocate with a child:

  • the potential advantages of the proposed move, including whether it will improve the quality of life for the custodial parent and child
  • the moving parent's motivations
  • the validity of the nonmoving parent's objections to the move, and
  • the availability of realistic, substitute visitation for the nonmoving parent.

The parent proposing the relocation has the burden of proving why the move will better the lives of that parent and the child and must also show the integrity of their reasons for moving. Once the custodial parent proves these things, the court won't prevent the move simply because the noncustodial parent's visitation won't continue in the same way after the move.

Other Considerations

When a parent has moved prior to the divorce or custody case beginning, the court won't use the three factors normally used for a relocation case. The court instead will simply conduct a normal custodial evaluation in determining which parent should have primary custody of the kids. The judge won't delve into each parent's motives for the move or objections to the move and will instead consider each parent's home environment and determine where it would be best for the children to live.

If you or your child's other parent wants to relocate with a child, it's best to consult with a family law attorney for advice on how to present your case to the court.

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