Whether you have a current Custody Order through the court system, or not, you are required to follow certain rules and procedures if you decide that you want to relocate with your child away from the other custodial parent.  Many people assume that relocation is triggered when a parent moves a certain distance or set number of miles away from the other, or if one parent changes school districts; this is not correct.  In Pennsylvania, relocation is triggered whenever there is “a change in a residence of the child which significantly impairs the ability of a nonrelocating party to exercise custodial rights.”  If you are not sure whether your potential move with your child is considered a relocation or not, always err on the side of caution and notify the other parent first before doing anything and making any final concrete plans.

Pennsylvania law requires that you provide the non-relocating parent with ample notice and opportunity to object.  While this may seem frustrating and involve many steps and a lot of paperwork, it is critical to follow the procedure, or else you may be prohibited from relocating as a matter of course.  For example, I recently had a case where my client was able to relocate to the South with her 2 children because the other parent failed to follow the rules; specifically, the other parent missed a filing deadline.  Because we filed everything on time and by the book, and because the other side filed their objection a few days late, the Judge assigned granted my client’s request and let the children move.  While my client had a very strong case for relocation to begin with, we ‘won’ on a mere technicality.  Point being – follow the rules and consult with an attorney to help you along the way!

The first step of the process is sending “Notice” to the other parent 60 days before your planned move date.  If you need to move in a pinch and have been given limited notice yourself (for example, needing to move because of a job change or your employer requires it), then you must tell the other parent within 10 days of you first learning of the necessary move.  The rules require that you provide specific details for the other parent such as the new address, the reason for the proposed relocation, the name of the new school/district, and a proposed custody schedule, among other requirements.  You must also send a “Counter-Affidavit” to the other parent, which provides them with an opportunity to agree, or object, to the requested move.   

If the non-relocating parent agrees, then you are likely in the clear, but you should still consult with an attorney about filing a Petition to Confirm Relocation with your county court.  More often than not, the non-relocating parent will file an objection as they do not want the children to leave their current residence; in that case, the family Judge assigned to your case must hold a hearing to determine whether they will grant or deny the request to relocate.  If you wish to object to a proposed relocation, it is critical to file your objection (via Counter-Affidavit) within twenty (20) days, or else you may lose your right to object.  There are also specific rules regarding service of these documents, which you must follow per the Rules of Civil Procedure.

During a relocation hearing, the Judge must consider the best interest of the child in deciding whether a move is warranted and approved, or whether it should be denied.  In addition to the 16 custody factors in our state, Pennsylvania judges must also consider an additional ten (10) relocation factors; Pennsylvania courts prioritize the child’s well-being and consider how the relocation might impact their physical, educational, and emotional welfare. Factors such as the quality of schools in the new location, the availability of extended family support, and the impact on the child’s established routines are all taken into account, among others.

The custodial parent must provide the Judge with a legitimate reason for the proposed relocation. This could include a job opportunity, the pursuit of higher education, or a significant change in circumstances that would benefit the child.  The court is also going to assess the existing relationship between the child and the noncustodial parent and how the proposed relocation might impact that relationship. If the relocation threatens to disrupt the noncustodial parent’s visitation rights or diminish their involvement in the child’s life, the court may weigh this factor heavily, but each Judge has discretion to review and analyze the facts as presented during a hearing.

In sum, custody relocation cases in Pennsylvania demand careful consideration of numerous factors, all centered around the best interests of the child. Contacting a family lawyer as soon as possible is recommended due to the complex procedures that must be followed, as failing to follow the proper procedure could backfire and impact your ability to relocate.