As a part of the new child custody law, a statute regarding relocation in Pennsylvania (23 Pa.C.S. § 5337) was enacted and put into effect on January 24, 2011. Over a year has passed since the initial statute has been put into effect, and practitioners are finding certain pitfalls in the language throughout the statute, and more specifically, what is left out of the statute completely.
The new relocation statute, unlike the former statute, defines relocation, which gives practitioners a bit more guidance as to what actually constitutes as a relocation by a party. It also lays out nine factors that the court must consider when deciding
if a relocation is in the best interest of the child, and of course, the tenth factor being just that, any other best interest factor of the child. The statute also gives guidance as to the time and method of service that starts the entire process, but this is where the statute begins to falter.
It’s clear that in the law, nothing is so black and white as to fit nicely into any given statute, especially in family law matters. The idea is that if the parties already have a standing custody order, the party wishing to relocate would only need to begin the relocation process by filing a Petition to Relocate (following the required statutory guidelines, of course,) but what if the party who wishes to relocate does not have primary custody? Does the party then need to file a Custody Complaint to start the process over, or are they required to file a Modification of the already existing custody order, or is the Petition to Relocate enough by itself? This question may very well vary from county to county, and the statute does not provide any insight as to this
Once a Petition to Relocate is filed, and the non-relocating party follows the statutory guidelines and filed his/her Counter-Affidavit opposing the relocation, the statute states that the “court shall hold an expedited full hearing on the proposed relocation…” I’m sure you know my next question: What is considered an expedited hearing? The statute does not give any type of timeline as to what expedited means, and if we look to the common dictionary definition of the word, we find that to expedite means to: 1.“speed up the progress of; hasten; 2. accomplish promptly, as a piece of business; dispatch.” So that helps…a little. Whereas each county may have different standard timelines for hearings being scheduled, you would be led to believe that the word “expedited” means that it would be faster than normal; however, I have heard of one recent expedited relocation hearing that was set to a date that was over four months away from the time of requesting said expedited hearing. It seems that the word may not be as forceful in the statute as one would think.
The statute does thrive by detailing that negative inferences may be drawn by a party for failing to provide notice to the non-relocating party, and also laying out ten specific factors that the court must consider when scrutinizing whether a relocation may be in the child’s best interest or not, but it seems as though practitioners are coming across more and more flaws with the statute as time goes on.
***If you are considering relocating, even if just to another county within
Pennsylvania, contact Neighborhood Attorneys for your free consultation at