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Court Permits Mother To Relocate With The Child More Than Five Hours Away

January 7, 2016

by Anthony Hoover

In September 2015, in a Non-precedential Decision, K.A.N. v. J.A.N., the Pennsylvania Superior Court upheld a trial court’s decision¬† to permit mother’s relocation with the child from Pennsylvania to Virginia. The relocation distance was in excess of a five hour drive.

In the decision, the court noted the parent seeking the relocation has the “burden” of establishing that the relocation will serve the best interests of the child. In applying this standard, the court noted that there is no “black letter formula that easily resolves relocation disputes; rather, custody disputes are delicate issues that must be handled on a case by case basis.”

In making its decision, the court relied on mother’s family relationships in Virginia, including mother’s intent to live with maternal grandmother and mother’s step-father. Additionally, mother and the child had visited Virginia every four to six weeks for six years leading up to the relocation. Father, on the other hand, did not have significant family support in Pennsylvania. Father only began a relationship with his own mother after the parties had separated and custody was at issue.

Additionally, father was not in a position to provide primary care for the child. During the marriage, father worked approximately 80 hours per week. Due to father’s work schedule, mother was the child’s primary caregiver, attending to the child’s daily care as well as arranging all of the child’s medical care and other needs.

The Court also found that mother, although living more than five hours away, would attempt to encourage the child’s relationship with father. The Court pointed to examples where mother would have to call father 15 to 20 times in an effort to facilitate the child’s telephone contact with father.

The Court also reviewed mother’s motivations in moving to Virginia. One of mother’s motivating factors was to avoid an unhappy marriage and a very controlling husband. Mother sought to remove the child from the fighting between the parties, and move to an area where mother and the child would have more support. The Court found that father, conversely, was largely motivated to maintain his control over mother and the child.

Finally the Superior Court reasoned that although mother was permitted to relocate, father was granted sufficient periods of partial physical custody in Pennsylvania that would support its decision to permit mother’s relocation to Virginia.