Child Custody, Visitation & Relocation


Mother demonstrated that a proposed move to Missouri to seize on an opportunity to own a working cattle farm was in her minor child’s best interests but failed to demonstrate that it was necessary to move immediately. The court granted mother’s petition to relocate but delayed the move until the school year’s end.

Mother and father are the natural parents of a minor child named AW. Parents were married when AW was born, but they separated in July 2006 and divorced in August 2007. Mother had primary physical custody while father exercised regular partial custody pursuant to an agreement made part of a court order. Mother married stepfather, Matthew Strickler, in September 2012. She had two children with stepfather and was expecting another child at the time of the court’s opinion. Meanwhile, father lived with his parents just 25 minutes away from mother. Here, mother filed a petition to relocate with stepfather and her children to Missouri. Marvin and Judith Kenagy, owners of a cattle farm in Missouri and friends of the Stricklers, had presented them with an opportunity. Marvin, who was 77 years old, hoped to make long-term arrangements to have the Stricklers take over the operations of his cattle farm and eventually own the farm, while allowing the Kenagys to remain on the property while able. The terms of the proposal were favorable to the Stricklers. At trial on the matter, mother presented her position that the move represented a wonderful opportunity for her family and would enhance the family’s quality of life. AW loved horses and hoped for a career as a horse trainer. The move would give AW the chance to care for and ride horses. Moreover, AW was having trouble at school and mother believed that a school in Archie, Missouri would be a better fit, given smaller classes. However, father opposed the move and sought primary custody of AW. In addressing mother’s request, the court considered the factors for relocation set forth in §5337(h) of the Pennsylvania Custody Statute. The move provided AW with the opportunity to thrive given her deep interest in horses and the opportunity to live on a working farm. The relocation also furthered her desires, as AW expressed her wish to move with mother. “On balance, there is the potential for financial and educational benefit (through the experience of working with horses) and would be positive for the minor child emotionally because of her great desire to make the move,” the court stated. However, the relocation would substantially impact the relationship between AW and father. The court considered the feasibility and timing of the proposed move. The Stricklers were anxious to move, but the haste appeared to come from an undercurrent of urgency without reason. The court decided to grant the relocation request, citing the Kenagy’s generous offer, but ruled that the relocation should not take place until the expiration of AW’s current school year. “This court finds it would not be in the best interests of the minor child to move immediately, but would…result in a chaotic situation, with the minor child hastily being signed up for school, with mother preparing to deliver a child while watching two (2) other small children, and all time potentially moving from one type of temporary housing to another, until the parties’ modular home would be built” on Kenagys’ farm,” the court reasoned.

Reference: Digests of Recent Opinions, Pennsylvania Law Weekly, 41 PLW 882, (Tuesday, September 18, 2018), Whitman v. Strickler, PICS Case No. 18-1033 (C.P. Berks Aug. 8, 2018) Lash, J.

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