On November 23, 2010, Governor Rendell signed Act 112 of 2010 into law. Act 112 constitutes Pennsylvania’s “New Child Custody Law.” On January 24, 2011, Act 112 went into effect. While Act 112 deals with various facets of child custody law in Pennsylvania, some of which I will address in future Doylestown and Newtown child custody blog postings, one of its most important contributions to child custody law is a comprehensive statutory framework for courts to use when dealing with a parent’s request for relocation. In this blog posting, I will provide an overview of the new law with regard to relocation and highlight some key things custodial and non-custodial parents in Bucks County to keep in mind when pursuing relocation or opposing another party’s request for relocation.
Pursuant to the new law, a party seeking relocation must provide notice to any other individual who has custodial rights to the child. The statute defines “Relocation” as a change in a residence of the child which significantly impairs the ability of a non-relocating party to exercise custodial rights. Accordingly, “Relocation” is not limited to a move out of state or a move between counties within Pennsylvania, e.g., a parent wants to relocate from Bucks County to Montgomery County. Even a move within a county in Pennsylvania could fall under the statute’s definition of “Relocation,” e.g., a parent wants to relocate from Doylestown, Bucks County to Newtown, Bucks County.
Under this new law, it is not enough to advise the other party of the intended destination and date of the proposed move alone. The statute sets forth specific information that a relocating party’s notice must provide, including, among other things, the address of the intended residence, the name of the new school district and school, reasons for the proposed relocation, and a proposal for a revised custody schedule. Additionally, the relocating party must provide the non-relocating party with a Counter-Affidavit Regarding Relocation, thereby providing the non-relocating party with the tool he/she needs to either agree or object to the relocation.
Not only must the notice be comprehensive, it must also be timely. The general rule under the statute requires that a relocating party provide notice to the non-relocating party on the 60th day before the date of relocation. While the statute does provide for exceptions to this rule, they are limited and must be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
Once a non-relocating party receives notice of the relocation, that party has only 30 days to object to the relocation by way of filing the provided Counter-Affidavit with the court. Filing a Counter-Affidavit is the only means a non-relocating party has to object to the relocation. If the non-relocating party fails to take this step, the court will presume that he/she has consented to the proposed relocation, and the court will not accept testimony challenging relocation if the non-relocating party later petitions the court for a review of the custodial arrangements.
3. Getting Court Approval for the Relocation
If the non-relocating party fails to object to the relocation or files a Counter-Affidavit approving the relocation, the relocating party may obtain court approval for the relocation and modification of the custody schedule by way of filing certain documentation with the Court, thereby avoiding the need to go to court for a hearing.
If the non-relocating party objects to either the relocation or the proposed modification of the custody schedule, a court hearing will be necessary. The court will hold an expedited full hearing on the proposed relocation before the relocation occurs, unless there are special circumstances justifying an approval of the relocation prior to the occurrence of the expedited full hearing.
It is important to note that there will not be a presumption in favor of relocation if the relocating party relocates with the child prior to the occurrence of the expedited full hearing. Moreover, if the relocating party relocated prior to the occurrence of the expedited full hearing without giving proper notice, that party may face a denial of the relocation request and even receive sanctions from the court.
While the outline above serves to give a general impression of the new custody law regarding relocation, it is important to remember that the statute is very particular in terms of its requirements for both parties. Accordingly, the outline above is not comprehensive and is not meant to provide a complete guide to those pursuing or opposing relocation. Both parties need to be sure that they have a thorough understanding of the statute and all that it requires so that they may preserve their custodial rights.