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What is Meant by "Relocation" in a Custody Case?

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Relocation is defined as a change in the child's residence that significantly impairs the ability of the non-relocating parent to exercise custodial rights.

By Attorney Jeffrey B. Engle, Relocation and Custody Lawyer, Harrisburg, PA

Pennsylvania has enacted legislation regarding relocation that is applicable in any situation where one party seeks to relocate with a minor child.  (See blog link about the factors).  Prior to enactment of the relocation statute, the courts were to apply the so called Gruber factors. While the relocation statute codifies and expands Gruber and its progeny, much of the case law is no longer applicable because of the statute.

The relocation statute requires the consent of all parties, or permission of the court, before relocation may occur.  Relocation is defined as a change in the child's residence that significantly impairs the ability of the non-relocating parent to exercise custodial rights.  The definition of impairment is without reference to whether the proposed relocation is interstate, intrastate, or even within the same county.  Significant impairment includes the inability to attend school activities, extracurricular activities, and medical appointments.  Simply giving the non-relocating parent more time will not necessarily remedy these issues.  The relocation statute applies to any relocation, and provides no exception for situations where there is no underlying order.  

The party seeking relocation must notify all other parties having custodial rights to the child.  A party opposing relocation must file an objection with the court and seek a temporary or permanent order to prevent relocation.  Absent exigent circumstances, the court shall hold an expedited full hearing before relocation occurs.   If relocation is approved, the court shall establish a custody order or modify an existing order.

Relocating the children in violation of an order can result in a finding of contempt but may not be the sole basis for an award of custody to the other parent.  When considering whether to grant relocation, the court must consider the 10 factors set forth in the relocation statute.  (See prior blog link).

Finally, the court will determine whether the factors weigh in favor of the relocating parent or the non-relocating parent.  It does not mean, however, that the parent requesting relocation may not move elsewhere.  It simply means that the child may not move with the parent seeking the relocation.

If you are considering moving a distance away from the other parent, it is crucial that you begin work on filing a motion to modify an existing custody order to allow relocation or, if no current order, to file a custody complaint and seek relocation if there is no consent from the other parent.  If it is a consensual move, you should still obtain the written consent of the other parent.  You may contact Shaffer & Engle Law Offices, LLC toll free or email us today.

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