When parents are living in separate households due to divorce or separation, neither parent may relocate with a child of the parties without the written consent of the other parent, Pennsylvania law has long held that a child’s relocation is a decision that parents must make together. Recently, the Pennsylvania General Assembly enacted sweeping changes that strengthen and clarify those limitations.
First, whether or not a custody order already exists, a relocating parent must have the Written consent ofthe other parent before relocating. A parent who does not have the other parent’s approval must file a detailed notice with the local county court of his or her intention to relocate at least 60 days before the planned relocation. The law provides for some flexibility in the notice period if the relocating parent could not reasonably have known of the need to relocate earlier. The notice must include the proposed new address, telephone number, school district, names of the persons who will be living in the new household, and the reasons for the relocation.
The objecting parent must file his or her detailed written objections within 30 days. Most courts have conciliation and mediation programs that all parents are required to attend in disputed custody cases. If such settlement programs do not result in an amicable agreement, the parents must move on to a prompt custody hearing before a judge. Judges are not entitled to order parents to live in any particular place, but they do have the authority to decide where a child will live in a disputed custody case. A parent who chooses to relocate may always do so, but he or she may or may not be able to take a child along.
If the non-relocating parent simply ignores the notice, the parent who wishes to relocate must file an appropriate detailed affidavit with the court, indicating that the notice was ignored, and must further petition the court for a clear order permitting relocation.
Even when a parent has primary custody of a child, he or she is not free to relocate without a written agreement or court order if the relocation would “significantly impair the right of a non-relocating party to exercise custodial rights.” Since custodial rights include the right to participate in decision making, any household move that triggers a school change is one which parents should treat as a legal relocation.