Child Custody, Visitation & Relocation

Child’s Stability, Emotional Development and Nurturing are the Primary Considerations and Factors in a Motion to Relocate a Minor Child

In the family law, child relocation custody case of Castillo v. Lopez, PICS Case No. 14-1381,(C.P. Monroe, July 9, 2014), the Honorable Stephen M. Higgins ruled on mother’s application to relocate with the parties’ 3-year-old daughter, that the relocation would not be in the child’s best interests as it would make daily visitation with the father unfeasible and would remove the child from the existing family support system. Therefore, the mother’s motion to relocate was denied.

By previous court order, plaintiff David Castillo and defendant Jhantteil Lopez shared legal and physical custody of their minor child Sophia, with mother enjoying primary physical custody and father enjoying weekdays from 4:30 p.m. until 8:00 p.m. and alternate weekends.

Mother then moved to relocate to the Scranton/Wilke-Barre area. The court concluded that her request should be denied.

 It began its analysis by noting that 23 Pa.C.S.A. 5328(a) sets forth the factors that must be considered in custody cases and that Pennsylvania case law had interpreted the statute as requiring that the paramount concern must be for the best interests of the child after considering all of the factors. Further, each case had to be decided based solely on the particular facts and circumstances.

The court then noted that because mother sought relocation, the additional factors in 23 Pa.C.S.A.  5337(h) also had to be considered and, as the party seeking the relocation, she had to establish that relocation would serve the child’s best interest. Each party had to establish the integrity of his or her motives in seeking to oppose the relocation.

The court then found that both parties appeared to be able to communicate with each other and coordinate pick-up and drop-off times for physical custody exchanges. Further, both seemed genuinely concerned with Sophia’s well-being and they appeared to cooperate to that end.

With regard to father’s relationship with Sophia, the court acknowledged his testimony that he enjoyed seeing her every day and that he did not want to be a weekend father. The court found that he had a strong and loving relationship with her and they spent quality time together.

It also found that mother, who has provided for Sophia’s daily needs since she was born, had a close relationship with her and also enjoyed quality involvement in her life.

The court noted that at age 3, Sophia had not entered school. It found that the impact of relocating would be minimal on her physical and educational development. However, father had expressed concern about the safety of the Wilkes-Barre area and had indicated that all of the parties’ family members lived in Monroe County, where Sophia was doing well. He was greatly concerned that he would not be able to see her on a daily basis if she relocated.

The court declined to consider the child’s preference due to her young age.

The court said it had to consider the feasibility of preserving the relationship between Sophia and her father. It said that while the distance between Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and Monroe County was only 50 miles, father was entitled to preserve his daily relationship with Sophia, which would be difficult if mother were permitted to relocate. Moreover, the court found that extended weekend and summer visits would not benefit the child’s relationship with him.

Finding that stability, emotional development and nurturing were primary considerations, the court noted that Sophia’s grandparents were in Monroe County, had helped in raising her, and that there were no family or friends in the Scranton/Wilkes Barre area.

Finally, the court said that while mother had recently secured employment in that area, and relocating would clearly benefit her by reducing her drive time, the close relationship between Sophia and her father would not be maintained.

Therefore, the court concluded that the relevant factors weighed more heavily against mother relocating and it denied her motion. The court issued a new custody order granting the parties shared legal custody of the child with mother having physical custody of her subject to father’s specified periods of custody.

Reference: Digest of Recent Opinions, Pennsylvania Law Weekly, 37 PLW 859 (September 9, 2014)

Filed Under: Family Law; Child Custody; Motion to Relocate Minor Child

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