Written by attorney April Marie Townsend

Factors in Custody Relocation

The new custody laws include a section devoted entirely towards relocation (23 Pa.C.S. 5337). Accordingly, when either parent wants to relocate a significant distance from the other parent, they must either get the other party's consent or petition the court for approval. If the matter must go before the court, the new law lays out numerous factors that should be considered in light of a petition for relocation. Previously, Gruber v. Gruber, 400 Pa. Super. 174 (1990) laid out a three-prong test to be used in determining whether relocation should be granted or not. Given the new statute has only been out for a few months it's still unclear exactly how the courts will handle the factors laid out by the statute alongside the Gruber factors. Both the statutory factors and the Gruber analysis are laid out below:

Factors in Relocation (23 Pa. C.S. §5337(h))

Nature, quality, extent of involvement and duration of child’s relationship with party proposing to relocate and with the non-relocating party, siblings and other significant persons in the child’s life

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

Feasibility of preserving the relationship between the nonrelocating party and the child through suitable custody arrangements, considering logistics and financial circumstance of the parties

Child’s preference, taking into consideration the age and maturity of the child

Whether there is an established pattern of conduct of either party to promote or thwart the relationship of the child and the other party

Whether the relocation will enhance the general quality of life for the party seeking relocation, including, but not limited to, financial or emotional benefit or educational opportunity

Whether the relocation will enhance the general quality of life for the child, including, but not limited to, financial or emotional benefit or educational opportunity

The reasons and motivation of each party for seeking or opposing the relocation

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 an abused party

Any other factor affecting the best interest of the child

  • The party proposing relocation has the burden of establishing that the relocation will serve the best interests of the child. Each party has the burden of establishing the integrity of that party’s motives in either seeking the relocation or seeking to prevent it.

Gruber Factors(400 Pa. Super. 174)

  1. What is the potential advantage of the move and the likelihood the move will substantially improve the life of the custodial parent and the children? Also is the move the produce of a momentary whim on the part of the custodial parent?

  2. Does the motivation for the move have integrity and is the reason for opposing the move have a similarly sound basis? and

  3. Are there available realistic alternative arrangements for substitute partial custody or visitation and will such arrangements adequately foster an ongoing relationship between the child and the non-custodial parent?

  • The initial burden is upon the party proposing the relocation to show the "advantage" to the parent and child. Each party has the burden with respect to the second prong addressing integrity for the dispute over relocation.

During this period of transition the best bet is to be prepared to build a case both on the statutory factors and the 3 prongs of Gruber. Additionally, since the best interests of the child are always factor, the factors laid out in 23 Pa.C.S. 5228 will likely prove helpful as well.

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