Every custody order issued in Pennsylvania contains the same final provision:
“No party may make a change in the residence of the Child which significantly impairs the ability of the other party to exercise custodial rights without first complying with all of the applicable provisions of 23 Pa.C.S. §5337 and Pa.R.C.P. 1915.17 regarding relocation.”
For individuals involved in custody action, seeing this language likely leads to questions. What exactly is a relocation? And how do I know if my desired or planned move is a relocation? If I want to move, what do I need to do?
What is relocation?
A relocation is any move that is going to impact the ability of any party in a case to carry out their custodial responsibilities and enjoy their custodial time with the children. These matters often need to be addressed on a case-by-case basis. Important points that a person considering a move should consider include whether the move will mean the children will need to change schools (and potentially make it harder for the other party to get the children to school in a timely manner), whether the move will significantly impact the amount of time that the children spend traveling, or whether the move would make the custody schedule as written impractical or impossible.
As this issue needs to be addressed on a case-by-case basis, there is no specific distance or travel time that automatically triggers the relocation procedures. A move across state lines may not even be considered a relocation. By way of example, a person who lives in New Hope, Pennsylvania could arguably move across the Delaware River to Lambertville, New Jersey without relocating pursuant to the Court’s definition.
What do I need to do if I would like to relocate?
For individuals looking to relocate, there are specific procedures that need to be followed. A person cannot relocate without the express agreement of all of the parties who have custody rights to the children in question or an Order of Court. Every person who has custody rights to the children must be provided with a notice sent by the person who wants to relocate, sent by certified mail with a return receipt requested, 60 days before the date of the proposed relocation. In the event that the person learns of a need to relocate without sufficient time to meet the 60-day requirement, did not know and could not reasonably have known that they needed to relocate before that date, and cannot possibly delay the relocation, they are permitted to provide notice no later than 10 days after they learn of the need to relocate.
The notice needs to include all of the available following information:
- the proposed new address (and mailing address if they are different),
- the names and ages of all of the persons who will reside in the proposed residence,
- the phone number of the new residence,
- the proposed school district and school name,
- the date of the proposed relocation,
- the reasons for the proposed relocation,
- a proposal for a new custody schedule, and
- any other relevant information.
If any of the information isn’t available at the time the notice is sent, the person who wishes to relocate has a duty to update all persons with custody rights to the children once the information becomes available.
The person seeking to relocate must also include a blank counter-affidavit which allows the recipient to object to the proposed relocation and modification of the custody order and which includes a clear warning that if the recipient does not file an objection to the relocation with the Court within 30 days, they lose the ability to object to the relocation at all.
What do I need to do if I receive a relocation notice?
Any person who receives a relocation notice and does not agree with the proposed relocation must fill out the counter-affidavit, clearly indicate their objection, and file the same with the Court within the 30-day time period. At that time, the Court will schedule a hearing on the issue. With the objection, the person who objects to the relocation can also seek a temporary or permanent Order which prohibits the relocation pending further Court proceedings.