Child Custody, Visitation & Relocation

Burden In Establishing Child Relocation

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Mother Did Not Meet Her Burden In Establishing That Children Relocation Will Serve The Children’s Best Interest

In the family law, child relocation case of Noss V. Merrill, PICS Case No. 16-0975, (C.P., Centre, July 22, 2016) the Honorable Pamela A. Ruest denied mother’s child’s relocation request.

Mother’s request to relocate her three children to be with her and switch primary custody schedule of school year/summer was based on opportunities of a new job in the parties’ hometown, which created a regular commute. Despite their separation, the parties managed to co-parent amicably with little conflict between them, but they disagreed on the educational and the care-related opportunities available with either parent. Ultimately the court found that the factors for relocation did not outweigh the disruption it would cause the children. Mother’s petition for relocation was denied, and the established custody schedule and parenting plan remained in effect.

Plaintiff Brittney Noss and defendant Jameson Merrill were together from high school and had three children together, born 2005, 2009, and 2010. When defendant went to college at the Pennsylvania State University, plaintiff moved with him and they lived in Centre County, though plans were to move back to York County at the conclusion of his schooling. The parties separated in 2013 but continued to co-parent, first in the same house and then different dwellings, until plaintiff moved back to York County for a new job in October 2015. Since then the parties have continued to share custody, with a schedule established by hearing in February 2016 which gave defendant primary custody during the school year, visiting with plaintiff every weekend but one a month, and in the summer plaintiff had primary custody during the week with defendant having most weekends.

On Dec. 4, 2015 plaintiff filed a proposed relocation for the children and switch of custody schedule, which defendant opposed two weeks later. The hearing requested by defendant was held in June 2016.

In its discussion of the best interest and relocation factors under 23 Pa.C.S.A. §5328 and §5337, the court reiterated several times how the parties had consistently focused the children and maintained a close involvement with them, meeting their needs, and neither party had undercut the other in their relationships with the children. The children were doing well in school with their father and babysitters, who filled in until defendant got off work, and were involved with friends and activities. When they were with their mother, the youngest shared a room with the daughter of plaintiff’s current boyfriend. While both parties made suggestions about the other’s work potential closer by, neither had a real difficulty with the one and one-half hour commute. No ill will was evident in the reasons for relocation or remaining.

The main relocation issues were that defendant felt that the school district where he lived offered a better education system than the district where the plaintiff lived, and relocation would obligate transitioning to a new school and “disrupt their established activities and friendships.” Plaintiff, on the other hand, believed she could offer a better daily routine; since her new job allowed her to finish at 1:30, she could prepare healthy meals and snacks and help the children with their homework. Having extended family nearby would eliminate the need for external childcare. The court was “not convinced the differences Mother explained would enhance the general quality of life for the children to an extent that counters the disruption relocation would cause to their established routine.”

The main custody factors were the need for improved scheduling and coordinating of doctors’ appointments, currently located in Centre County, and the concern expressed by defendant that relocation would mean a reduction in his involvement with the children’s school and extracurriculars that would “weaken his relationship with his children.” One further factor, the history of drug or alcohol abuse of a member of the household, showed a difference between the two parties, in that multiple individuals from plaintiff’s family and environment, including potential caregivers, had past DUI involvement.

The court found that plaintiff “did not meet her burden in establishing that relocation…will serve the children’s best interests.” Allowing the children to remain where they were maximized the time they would spend with each parent, with plaintiff having more quality time with them in the summer and defendant maintaining their routines during the school year.

Reference: Digest of Recent Opinions, Pennsylvania Law Weekly, 39 PLW 785 (August 16, 2016)

Filed Under: Child Relocation; Child Custody; Best Intent of the Child

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