In some Bucks County custody cases, one parent may wish to move with the minor children to another location due to a change in employment or other circumstances. Even when one parent has primary custody, that parent may not be able to move with the children without either the other parent’s consent or the Court’s approval. It all depends on whether any other party who has a right to custody will be affected by the relocation.
Although the party seeking relocation may feel that it is in the best interest of the children to relocate due be it a better geographical area, a lower cost of living or the ability to earn additional income, the Court gives great weight to the ability of both parents to exercise their custodial rights. A relocating party has the burden to prove that relocating is in the best interest of the children, if the other party objects, and that will take a great deal of objective evidence to convince the Court to approve the relocation.
“Relocation” is defined by Statute in Pennsylvania as “a change in a residence of the child which significantly impairs the ability of a nonrelocating party to exercise custodial rights.” As you can see, this is not a very objective definition and can lead to confusion by all the parties involved. There is no strict mileage or distance standard to determine what is a relocation. Whether a move is considered a “relocation” by the Court depends on the circumstances of that particular case. For instance, if the parties have a shared custody schedule and one parent wishes to move to another house within the same school area, this would not be considered a relocation by the Court. However, if a parent has primary custody and wishes to move to another school district with the children, this would likely be considered a “relocation”, even if the new school district is superior to the current one and the move results in a minimal increase in the other parent’s drive time for custody.
In circumstances where it is questionable whether the Court will deem a move to be a “relocation”, it is always better to error on the side of caution. The Court does not take kindly to parents acting unilaterally with regard to custody, particularly when it comes to relocation. Of course, if the other party or parties agree to the relocation there is no issue.
If a parent wishes to relocate with the children, they must send written notice of the proposed relocation at least 60 days prior to the relocation to the other party or parties via certified mail and conforming to the relocation statute. If the other party or parties with rights to custody do not consent to the relocation, they must file Notice of Objection to the Relocation with the Court using a form supplied with the notice of proposed relocation. It is very important that this Notice of Objection is filed or they may lose their opportunity to object.
Factors PA Courts Consider for Relocation in Bucks County Custody Cases
If the nonrelocating party files their objection to the relocation, a hearing will be held to determine if the relocation is in the best interests of the minor child or children. The Court will use the following factors in making its decision:
(1) The nature, quality, extent of involvement and duration of the child's relationship with the party proposing to relocate and with the nonrelocating party, siblings and other significant persons in the child's life.
(2) The age, developmental stage, needs of the child and the likely impact the relocation will have on the child's physical, educational and emotional development, taking into consideration any special needs of the child.
(3) The feasibility of preserving the relationship between the nonrelocating party and the child through suitable custody arrangements, considering the logistics and financial circumstances of the parties.
(4) The child's preference, taking into consideration the age and maturity of the child.
(5) Whether there is an established pattern of conduct of either party to promote or thwart the relationship of the child and the other party.
(6) Whether the relocation will enhance the general quality of life for the party seeking the relocation, including, but not limited to, financial or emotional benefit or educational opportunity.
(7) Whether the relocation will enhance the general quality of life for the child, including, but not limited to, financial or emotional benefit or educational opportunity.
(8) The reasons and motivation of each party for seeking or opposing the relocation.
(9) The present and past abuse committed by a party or member of the party's household and whether there is a continued risk of harm to the child or an abused party.
(10) Any other factor affecting the best interest of the child.
If you are contemplating a relocation please contact our office to schedule an appointment to speak with one of our custody attorneys. We have offices in Doylestown and Newtown.