Divorced or separate parents are not uncommon. In Pennsylvania, when one parent wishes to move with the children, they may be under an obligation to seek the consent of the other parent or the court before they can do so.
The Pennsylvania Custody Act requires that a person wishing to “relocate” with a child, must provide sixty days’ notice to and get the consent of every person who has custody rights to the child or, if the other people do not consent, the moving party must ask the court to make the decision. The term “relocate” has a specific definition in the Custody Act. It means a “change in a residence of the child which significantly impairs the ability of the nonrelocating party to exercise custodial rights.” There are two very important parts of this definition: the requirement of a “significant impairment” and the nonrelocating party’s custodial rights.
There is no blackline rule about what amounts to a significant impairment. Where a move can be accomplished without any impairment of the nonmoving party’s rights, then the move is not a “relocation” under the Custody Act and the notice and consent requirements do not apply: the parties may simply carry on as they had prior to the move. If, however, the current custody arrangement cannot be maintained, then the degree to which it affects the nonmoving party’s rights will be considered.
The second important part of the relocation definition is the nonrelocating party’s custodial rights. A parent has custody rights, whether or not there is a formal custody order. Other people may also have custody rights established in a court order. Sometimes grandparents have custody rights, sometimes other family or unrelated people have custody rights, as well. Even where there are no prior custody orders, a parent wishing to relocate will be required to provide notice and seek the consent of the other parent.
If the matter proceeds to court, the court will review a number of factors in considering whether the relocation is in the best interest of the children. These factors include information such as whether the move will enhance the children’s wellbeing, physically, emotionally, and/or financially. They also include whether the children will be able to maintain a meaningful relationship with the nonrelocating party. Each case is highly fact-specific, and the court has a wide range of discretion in making a decision.
By: John M. Schaffranek, Esq.