Case Notes: Custody relocation

On January 24th, 2011, Pennsylvania's stringent new relocation law went into effect. The relocation statute has "factors" that the court must consider when deciding whether to permit a parent to relocate with the children.

The Superior Court and many local courts have now faced cases where they must interpret the relocation factors set forth by the law. This post will deal with an Allegheny County Court applying the new relocation factors in deciding whether to permit a relocation..

In Kercher v. Kercher, FD-10-004676, Allegheny C.P. (June 25, 2012), Mother unilaterally moved the children from Allegheny County to New Castle, Pennsylvania. Under the statute, Mother is required to give Father notice allowing him to contest the move. Father filed an emergency motion to protest the move, and the case was scheduled for a custody and relocation trial.

The factors that the court takes into account when determining whether relocation is in the best interest of the child are:

  1. Relationship with parents. The nature, quality, extent of involvement and duration ofthe child's relationship with the party proposing to relocate and with the non-relocating party, siblings and other significant persons in the child's life .-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
  2. Age and development. 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. Maintaining relationship. The feasibility ofpreserving the relationship between the non-relocating party and the child through suitable custody arrangements, considering the logistics and financial circumstances of the parties. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
  4. Preference. The child's preference, taking into consideration the age and maturity of the child. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
  5. Alienation. 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. Quality of Parent Life. 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. Quality of Child's Life. 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. Reasons. The reasons and motivation of each party for seeking or opposing the relocation. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
  9. Abuse. 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. Everything else. Any other factor affecting the best interest of the child.

In Kercher, the PA Superior Court found that Father and his family had a much stronger relationship and involvement with the children. Also, that the Allegheny county schools would better serve the child since he had attended school there previously and was bullied in his new school. Because Mother refused to relocate from New Castle back to Allegheny County, the parties could not feasibly share custody. As such, the court awarded primary custody to Father.

The new relocation statute has very stringent procedural requirements. If you have children and are planning to move, you should consult with an attorney before taking any steps. Look for legal counsel that concentrates on family law to get the best expertise and counsel.