During a divorce or a custody case, parents must decide where their children will live and come up with a timesharing schedule. While these arrangements are important, they cannot predict each parent's future. When one parent has to move or relocate out of state or to a different country for a new job or family issue, the parents' timesharing arrangement and custody agreement will have to change.
If the relocating parent wants to take the children with them as part of the move, the family law court will have to determine if relocation is in the best interests of the children. These hearings, known as “Gruber Hearings” in Pennsylvania, will weigh the interests of both parents with the interests of their children when making a decision about where the children should live.
Relocating with your children can be a major process, even without needing permission from a family court. When you need a judge's approval to move your children away from their other parent, the process can be extremely complicated. At the Lento Law Firm, we help Pennsylvania parents navigate the difficult waters of the relocation process and can assist you in making the case to move with your children. If you want to move with your children, get help from experienced Pennsylvania family law attorney Joseph D. Lento and the team at the Lento Law Firm today.
Child Custody Agreements And Modifications
When parents end their relationship with each other, they must decide where their children are going to live and how often each parent will have time with them. Some parents do this process informally, but the majority of parents will have a family law court enter an order determining custody. This might happen as part of a divorce case or as a separate child custody case.
A judge's order on custody may give either parent legal custody, physical custody, or both. Legal custody gives a parent the right to be involved in important decisions made on the child's behalf, like decisions about where the child will go to school, what type of medical treatment they will receive, or what religion they practice. Physical custody gives a parent the right to physically be with or live with the child. Often, both parents will have legal custody rights and will share physical custody of their children. The parent who has the children in their physical custody for more than 50% of the time is known as the custodial parent.
The judge's child custody order controls how the parents and children interact with each other until the children reach the age of majority. If one or both parents need to change the terms of their custody agreement, they will have to seek a modification from the family law court. During a modification hearing, the judge will hear arguments from both parents about the merits of changing the order and will make a decision that works in the best interests of the parents' children.
Relocating children is a major modification to the child custody order. When a parent wants to move with their children, they must either obtain permission from all parties involved or obtain approval from a family court judge. The process of obtaining approval starts with giving notice of the proposed move to the child's other parent. If you are considering moving with your children, contact the team at the Lento Law Firm prior to making plans. Pennsylvania family lawyer Joseph D. Lento can assist you in fulfilling your legal requirements and help you make the best case for relocation.
Parental Notice Prior To Moving
Under Pennsylvania law, parents who are subject to a custody order must give the other parent notice and obtain permission if they intend to relocate with their children. According to 23 PA.C.S. §5322, “relocation” means changing a child's residence to a place that makes it difficult for the non-moving parent to exercise their custodial or visitation rights. This could mean moving several states away, moving to a foreign country, or moving to a location several hours away while still within Pennsylvania. If moving the children to a new location would cause the non-custodial parent to lose parenting time with their children because of the hardship created by the distance, then notice and approval are required before the move.
A custodial parent that wants to relocate with their children must give the other parent at least 60 days of notice of their intention to relocate. If 60 days notice is not possible due to unforeseen circumstances, the parent must give notice within ten days of finding out about their anticipated move.
The notice must give the non-custodial parent a significant amount of information, including the custodial parent's new address and contact information, the child's new school, and a new proposed custody arrangement and visitation schedule. Parents who are affected by domestic violence may be able to have some of these requirements waived for their safety.
Providing notice to the other parent gives them time to object. If the non-custodial parent does not object and consents to the move, the judge can modify the custody order without a hearing. If, however, the non-custodial parent objects to the relocation and does not want their children to move, then they will have to file an objection to the Notice of Proposed Relocation within 30 days after they receive it. The experienced family law team at the Lento Law Firm can help you file an objection or respond to a Notice of Proposed Relocation to ensure your parental rights are protected.
Relocation (Gruber) Hearings
In most cases, when one parent objects to the other's relocation with the children, there will be a hearing to decide the matter. During a relocation hearing, a judge will hear evidence from both parents and will weigh multiple factors when making a decision about where and with whom the children should live.
Relocation hearings can be difficult. The prospect of one parent moving the children far away from the other can create strong emotions for everyone involved. The move might mean that one parent will see their children significantly less often. Children's relationships with their friends and family can be impacted. Even if the move is the best option for all parties, there are often strong emotions involved.
The judge who is deciding the matter will have to weigh many competing interests when making a decision. The judge will be guided by the standards expressed in a Pennsylvania Supreme Court case called Gruber v. Gruber, 583 A.2d 434 (1990). In that case, a trial court had told a custodial mother that if she relocated, she would lose custody to the non-custodial father. Upon review, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court noted a lack of objective standards for judges to follow when making complicated decisions regarding the relocation of children.
In the Gruber case, the Court said that a judge deciding relocation matters must weigh the interests of four parties when making a decision about relocation:
- The relocating custodial parent's wants and desires to make their own decisions over their life choices and make decisions for their children,
- The child's interests in maintaining a relationship with their non-custodial parent,
- The non-custodial parent's interest in sharing the love and affection of their children, and
- The state's obligation is to protect the best interests of the child.
All of these parties frequently have competing motivations, interests, and concerns. The parent who is seeking relocation with the children will have the burden of proving that the move is in the children's best interests.
Standards for Parent Relocation
Whether relocating is in the best interests of a child depends on several things. In Pennsylvania, 23 PA.C.S. §5337 lists ten relocation factors that a judge must consider when determining the best interests of a child. These include balancing:
- The nature and quality of the child's relationships with their custodial parent, non-custodial parent, siblings, family, and friends;
- The child's age, emotional state, and ability to adjust to a new location;
- The feasibility of maintaining a quality relationship between the child and the non-custodial parent;
- The child's preference about moving, depending on their age and maturity;
- Whether either parent has a pattern of interfering with the other's parent-child relationship;
- Whether the relocation will enhance the moving party's overall quality of life, financial situation, or emotional well-being;
- Whether the relocation will enhance the quality of life for the child, including better educational opportunities, financial well-being, or family support;
- The reasons and motivations that each party has for either seeking or opposing relocation;
- Any past history of abuse by either party and the risk for harm to the child; and
- Any other factors that could affect the best interests of the child.
These factors are meant to ensure that custodial parents are not moving their children away from their non-custodial parent out of malice or spite. Similarly, they make sure that parents with legitimate opportunities to improve their lives can do so, even if it means that one parent sees their children less frequently.
Failing To Give Notice Of Relocation
Moving can be stressful in the best of situations. For some parents, especially those with a contentious relationship with their former partner, it might seem easier to avoid giving proper notice, move anyway, and hope for the best after the other parent finds out. This is a bad idea.
Failing to give proper notice to a child's other parent before relocating can have serious consequences. Pennsylvania state law allows a family court judge to take a lack of notice into consideration when deciding who should have custody of the children. If a parent relocated a child and failed to give the other parent reasonable notice, the judge may use that lack of notice as:
- A factor when approving or disapproving a relocation;
- A factor when deciding to change or modify a parent's custody rights;
- A basis for ordering the child to be returned to the non-relocating parent;
- A reason to order the relocating parent to pay the other party's costs and attorneys' fees; and/or
- Grounds for holding the relocating parent in contempt or ordering sanctions against them.
Relocating children without proper notice to their other parent and either their consent or a judge's order can have serious legal repercussions. The relocating parent may lose their custody rights entirely by trying to avoid the legal process.
When parents are the victims of domestic violence from their former partner, some of the notice requirements may be waived. Relocations without notice may also be approved on an emergency or temporary basis for good cause. However, some type of notice of relocation is usually still required. If you are concerned about relocating after domestic violence, the knowledgeable team at the Lento Law Firm can help you comply with the law while keeping your family safe.
Get Experienced Representation For Your Relocation Hearing
Your relationship with your children is the most important one in your life. When relocation threatens that relationship, it can cause worry, fear, and anxiety. You may have an excellent job opportunity and not be able to imagine not taking your children with you. Or, you might be faced with a vindictive ex-partner who wants to move the children to prevent you from having access to them. Whatever the case, the decisions made during a relocation or Gruber hearing can have enormous impacts on your daily life and your children's lives for years to come.
At the Lento Law Firm, Pennsylvania relocation attorney Joseph D. Lento understands the strain that relocation can put on you and your children. Our experienced team of family law professionals can help you create a plan to keep your family together as much as possible. Contact our office today by calling 888.535.3686 and learn more.