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Law Office of Gary R. Swavely, Jr. Blog

Friday, March 23, 2018

How Do Child Custody Laws in Pennsylvania Work When One Parent Moves Abroad?

Dealing with custody issues can be a very emotional, complicated, and frustrating process when parents are in the same city or state. However, when parents are in different states or even a different country, child custody issues can become far more complex. Under Pennsylvania custody laws, the child’s best interest is a guiding factor in determining child custody disputes, including child relocation issues.

It is very important that you consult with a Pennsylvania child custody lawyer if you and your child’s other parent will be living in different countries. Even if you agree to a custody arrangement, you need to consider some of the common issues that can arise in custody agreements for parents in different countries such as:

  • Which country will have jurisdiction to hear matters related to custody;

  • How will you develop a parenting plan that considers the best interest of the child while allowing both parents to remain active participants in the child’s life;

  • How court orders will be enforced; and,

  • Provisions to prevent abduction by either parent.

International child custody is a specialized area of law. You need a Pennsylvania family law attorney to help guide you through the process of developing a parenting plan and settling issues related to international child custody, filing a petition for the relocation of a child, or fighting a petition for the relocation of a child.

How Does Pennsylvania Settle Relocation Issues?

In many cases, the parents were living together with the child in Pennsylvania at the time of the separation or divorce. Therefore, Pennsylvania should have jurisdiction over child custody issues. The issue of relocation arises after the parents are divorced, and one of the parents desires to move to another country. Relocation is defined as a change in the child’s residence that will “significantly impair” a parent’s ability to exercise his or her parental rights. Moving to another country will qualify as a significant impairment.

Before Pennsylvania passed the Child Custody Act in November 2010, child relocation cases were decided based on the Gruber test. The Gruber test is a three-prong test based on the decision by the Superior Court in Gruber v. Gruber. The test weighed the benefits of the relocation for the child and the parent, the motivations of both parties, and a new custody schedule. Under the new law, the court must now consider ten factors before approving or denying a petition for relocation.

Notice of Relocation

The first step in a relocation case is to provide notice of intent to relocate to every individual who has custody rights to the child. The notice must be in writing, contain specific information required by law, and mailed at least 60 days before the date of the proposed relocation by certified mail, return receipt requested. If the non-relocating parent objects to the relocation, he or she must file an objection within 30 days of receipt of the notice of relocation. A court hearing is scheduled for the parties to present evidence for or against the relocation.

Determining the Child’s Best Interest

By law, the court must consider all ten factors outlined in the Child Custody Act. The tenth factor allows judges to consider any other factors that impact the best interest of the child. Relocating to a different country can significantly impact the child and should be weighed heavily in determining the best interest of the child.

Even when parents consent, deciding matters of custody while living in different countries can be tricky. Contact our Pennsylvania family law attorneys to discuss matters related to child custody, including relocation or custody agreements for parents living in different countries.


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