Child Custody, Visitation & Relocation

Petition for Relocation; Burden of Proof on Petitioner

In case of J.C. vs. T.K., PICS Case No. 13-3326, (C.P. Lehigh County, December 2, 2013), the Honorable Marc Lovecchio ruled that the mother failed to satisfy her burden of proof on a petition for relocation where the evidence demonstrated that relocating the children to a new (and allegedly safer) school district would have a negative impact on their educational and emotional development.

The parties were the natural parents of M.C. and R.C. by agreement, they enjoyed shared legal and physical custody of their children. On June 20, 2013, mother filed a notice of relocation, seeking to relocate with the children to Turbotville, Northumberland County, PA.

After father filed an objection, several hearing were held. Subsequent to the first hearing, mother and her husband relocated to Turbotville. Mother’s main reasons for moving were to expand her farm business and get her children involved in a better school district.

Mother had the burden of establishing that relocation would serve the best interest of her children under the factors set forth in 23 Pa.C.S.A. §5337(h). Most of her evidence related to the desirability of having the children attend the Warrior Run School District instead of the Williamsport Area School District.

Mother’s major concerns centered on the diversity in the Williamsport Area School district, her perception that it was unsafe, and her opinion that her children would be expose to drugs and violence.

Mother’s husband, J.R., was a police officer for the city of Williamsport. J.R. testified that because of the diversity of individuals in the Williamsport Area School District, it had “a lot of issues”. He testified that there were certainly greater “bad influences” and that safety was a huge concern for parents.

The court noted, however, that mother failed to present first-hand testimony from any representative of the Warrior Run School District. She did not call any teacher, staff member, coach, guidance counselor or administrator.

Although the court found J.R. credible, much of his testimony relating to the Williamsport Area School district was secondhand. Moreover, father demonstrated many benefits of the Williamsport Area School district. The court found it clear that relocating the children to Turbotville would have a negative impact on their educational emotional development.

“This is not because of any conclusion that the Warrior Run School district is somehow inferior to the Williamsport Area School District but rather due to the fact that the evidence presented to the Court demonstrates that the children are flourishing in their present environment and that the Williamsport Area School District can enhance their development”.

In addition, both children expressed a preference for living primarily with their father, and a strong preference to not change school districts. Mother had excellent reasons for wanting to move. However, by staying in Williamsport, the children would continue to thrive academically and otherwise, the court observed.

Ironically, mother argued that by staying in Williamsport, the children would be involved with “the higher presence of drugs”. However, mother refused to dispel any inclination her daughter had, that mother smoked marijuana. Mother conceded that the children were not involved in drugs or other self-destructive behaviors.

The court did not believe that it was in the best interests of the children to relocate to Turbotville. “The danger of removing the children from their present structure and infusing their lives with so much change portends a negative result”. As such, the court denied mother’s petition.

Reference: Digest of Recent Opinions, Pennsylvania Law Weekly (December 23, 2013)

Filed Under: Family Law:  Custody

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