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Know the Laws: Pennsylvania

UPDATED October 12, 2012

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Please consider getting help from an organization in your area before proceeding with court action regarding custody issues.  You can visit PA Where to Find Help for local resources and legal assistance.

 

Relocating with your child after a custody order is in place

back to topHow do I notify the other parent that I want to relocate?

Pennsylvania law defines relocation as "a change in a residence of the child which significantly impairs the ability of a nonrelocating party to exercise custodial rights."*  Unlike some other states, Pennsylvania's relocation laws do not specify whether or not they only apply to people who want to relocate out of state or people who want to move beyond a certain mile radius.  We recommend consulting with a custody attorney in Pennsylvania to find out if your planned move would fit the definition of a "relocation" according to Pennsylvania law.

If you want to move and you have a custody order in place, Pennsylvania says that a relocation (as defined above) cannot happen unless everyone who has custody rights to the child consents to the move or the judge approves the relocation.**  There are very specific requirements of how you have to notify those who have custody rights. 

The notice must be sent by certified mail, return receipt requested, and it has to be given no later than:

  • the 60th day before the date of the proposed relocation; or
  • the 10th day after you know about the relocation but only if:
    • you did not know and could not reasonably have known of the relocation in enough time to give the 60-day required notice; and
    • it is not reasonably possible to delay the date of relocation to meet the 60-day notice requirement.***
The following information, if available, must be included with the notice of the proposed relocation (Note: if you are victim of abuse, and your address was kept confidential by the court, check with an attorney to see what things from the list below you can leave out):
  1. The address of the intended new residence and the mailing address (if different).
  2. The names and ages of the people who currently live, or intend to live, in the new residence.
  3. The home telephone number of the intended new residence, if available.
  4. The name of the new school district and school.
  5. The date of the proposed relocation.
  6. The reasons for the proposed relocation.
  7. A proposal for a revised custody schedule.
  8. Any other information which you think is appropriate to include.
  9. A "counter-affidavit" which can be used by those who receive the notice to object to the proposed relocation and the modification of a custody order (to see what the counter-affidavit must look like, go to section 5337 of the law on our our PA Statutes page, and look at section (d)(1))
  10. A warning to the non-relocating party that if s/he does not file an objection with the court to the proposed relocation within 30 days after receipt of the notice, that s/he can no longer object to the relocation.****
These cases can be complicated, and we strongly suggest that you get an attorney to help you, especially if the other parent does not want you to move.  See our PA Finding a Lawyer page to find legal help.

* 23 Pa.C.S.A. §5322(a)
** 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 5337(b)
*** 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 5337(c)(1),(2)
**** 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 5337(c)(3)

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back to topWhat could happen if I don't give proper notice to the non-relocating party?

If you don't provide proper notice to the non-relocating party, the judge can treat this in one of the following ways:

  1. as a factor in making a decision regarding the relocation;
  2. as a factor in determining whether custody rights should be modified;
  3. as a reason for ordering the return of the child to the non-relocating party if you already relocated without reasonable notice;
  4. as a basis for ordering you to pay reasonable expenses and counsel fees of the non-relocating party's objection to the relocation; and/or
  5. as a basis for contempt and sanctions (penalties) against you.*
However, the judge must also consider whether or not your failure to provide reasonable notice was caused in whole, or in part, by abuse.  If so, the judge should consider that as a reason to "ease up" on you when considering which of the above should apply in your case.**

* 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 5337(j)
** 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 5337(k)

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back to topIf the other parent objects to the move, what happens?

If the other parent/person with custody rights objects, s/he must file an objection with the court within 30 days of receiving your proposed relocation notice and s/he has to serve a copy to you by certified mail, return receipt requested.  Then, the judge will hold a hearing to decide if you can relocate.*  Note: Even if no objection is filed, you have to file certain documents with the court before relocating.*1  Go to section 5337 of the law on our our PA Statutes page, and look at section (e) to see what you need to file.  Normally, the judge will hold the hearing after receiving the other parent's objection and before the relocation occurs but it is possible that the judge could decide on his/her own that a hearing is necessary and hold a hearing even before receiving the other parent's objection.  In some cases, if the judge believes that there are emergency circumstances, the judge could approve the relocation first and then hold a hearing to make a final decision.*2  (However, this doesn't necessarily mean that the judge's ultimate decision after a hearing would favor you.)*3  If the judge approves the proposed relocation, s/he will modify any existing custody order or establish the terms and conditions of a custody order.*4

* 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 5337(d)(2)
*1 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 5337(e)
*2 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 5337(g)(1)-(3)
*3 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 5337(l)
*4 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 5337(g)(4)

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back to topWhat factors will a judge consider when deciding if I can relocate with my child?

In deciding whether to allow your proposed relocation, the judge should consider the following factors and give heavy consideration to those factors which affect the safety of the child:

  1. The nature, quality, and amount of involvement, and the length of the child's relationship with you and with the non-relocating party, siblings and other significant people in the child's life.
  2. 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. The possibility of preserving the relationship between the non-relocating party and the child through appropriate custody arrangements, considering the location and financial circumstances of the parties.
  4. The child's preference, taking into consideration the age and maturity of the child.
  5. Whether there is an established pattern of conduct of either party to help or harm the relationship of the child and the other party.
  6. Whether the relocation will improve the general quality of life financially, emotionally, educationally, etc., for you and for your child. 
  7. The reasons and motivation of you for seeking the relocation and of the other party for opposing the relocation.
  8. 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 you (if you were abused).
  9. Any other factor affecting the best interest of the child.*
It is your responsibility to prove the the judge that the relocation will serve the best interest of the child based on the factors above and that your motives in moving are good ones.  The non-relocating party has to prove that s/he has good motives in objecting to the relocation.**

* 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 5337(h)
** 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 5337(i)

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WomensLaw.org would like to thank Ellen Adler and Sharon Lopez at the Pennsylvania Coalition against Domestic Violence for their assistance with this page.

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