Obtaining Approval Prior to Relocating in Child Custody Cases
Not long after the custody arrangement was set, the newly re-married mother up and moved with the two-year-old child. She relocated some seven hours away to the far end of another state.
The father sharing custody with the child was left stunned, but not without powerful legal options thanks to recent changes to Pennsylvania's Custody Act.
Those changes now require a parent intending to relocate to seek the other parent's approval prior to the relocation. Absent a deal among the parents, the custody case must go back before a judge before the relocating parent can move with the child.
"The rule of law is that no relocation may occur unless every individual with custody rights consents, or the court approves the relocation," said attorney Marc Scaringi, managing shareholder of Scaringi Law
Left behind, but not without legal options
Needless to say, the father left behind in wake of the mother's relocation with the child objected vehemently to the move. But when the mother went anyway, taking the child and joining her new husband in another state, the father could do far more than complain.
With his opportunity to see his child greatly reduced by the seven-hour drive between them, the father eventually sought out legal advice at Scaringi & Scaringi. And after hearing the man's story, Scaringi knew that the father had a strong case under the recent Custody Act provisions governing relocation issues.
As Scaringi explains, the act outlines notice procedures under which the party seeking to relocate must inform all those with custodial rights within a certain time frame. This notice must include detailed information on the new location, the residence to be inhabited by the child, schools, cohabitants in the home, reasons for the move and, ultimately, a revised custody schedule agreeable to all parties.
There are forms and counter-affidavits to fill out and return. Above all, the other parent is fully informed that he or she has the right to object to the proposed relocation.
Unfortunately, some parents in a rush to relocate don't go by the book. And while this disrupts the parent who is left behind, it can ultimately endanger the custody rights of the relocating parent who acts rashly, without following proper legal procedure.
"The problem we have been seeing is some parents believe incorrectly that they can choose where to live without consulting with or obtaining the consent of the other parent," Scaringi notes. "Just because a parent has primary physical custody does not mean that parent gets to relocate."
A powerful legal remedy in rash relocation custody cases
Scaringi took the father's case. It proved to be a textbook example of one parent flouting the Custody Act's rules regarding relocation. But even the attorney with plenty of custody rights experience didn't know how dearly the mother would pay for her mistake in judgment.
"In this case, we had two parents living in Central Pennsylvania," Scaringi recounts. "And one parent, the mother, remarried after a whirl-wind courtship. Within a few months of dating, she remarries and moves seven hours away. The father objected repeatedly."
But then, he went to court.
Scaringi also noticed that the existing court order governing the custody arrangement had a provision covering re-location. This was more legal ammunition on top of the Custody Act rules.
"This mother decided to up and move," Scaringi said. "It made it more difficult for the father to spend time with the child. He had to drive all the way down to the southern part of a neighboring state to retrieve and return the child. It made it almost impossible to carry out his custody schedule. Thankfully, the client had already filed a petition for contempt."
A stunning outcome in a textbook custody relocation case
In October, all the parents were back in central Pennsylvania as the custody case went before a judge. There was a half-day hearing. When the legal dust settled, the judge not only denied the mother's request to relocate but held her in contempt of court. Primary physical custody of the child was transferred to the father.
"We were ecstatic with the outcome of the case," Scaringi said. "I'm not sure this mother was fully prepared for the reality that occurred at the conclusion of the hearing. She lost, and custody was changed. She lost her request to relocate. She lost primary custody. It was a double hit to her position."
The young child now benefits from being reunited with her father and extended family on both sides - all of whom live in central Pennsylvania.
The takeaway lessons are clear: If a parent wants to relocate with a child to a new community, they must either reach an agreement with the other parent or present the case in court before the move takes place.
But Scaringi urges parents to think before they contemplate relocation. Is it in the best interest of the child? For Scaringi, that's what these cases are all about, the welfare of the kids caught in the middle.
"When spouses or parents separate, it's often that one or both are looking to relocate," Scaringi said. "Sometimes, a parent will look to relocate at some distance. But you can't forget that the other parent of the child still wants to have a relationship with their child."
To learn more about how Marc Scaringi can help you, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org