As a family law practitioner, I find custody cases in which one parent seeks to relocate with the children the hardest to predict and I have heard from numerous others, including judges, that I am not alone in that sentiment. The only consistent outcome in relocation cases seems to be that the losing side will likely appeal the trial court’s ruling.
Father, in Hogrelius v. Martin, 2008 PA Super 111, did exactly that, appealing the trial court’s decision to allow Mother to move from Chester County, Pennsylvania to McLean, Virginia with the parties’ child. The finder of fact, in relocation cases, must consider three factors as part of its analysis of whether the move with the child is in the child’s best interests. Gruber v. Gruber, 583 A.2d 434 (Pa.Super. 1990).
Essentially, the court must consider:
- The potential advantages of the move and the likelihood that the move would substantially improve the quality of life for the child;
- The integrity of the motives of the parent seeking to move and of the parent opposing the move; and
- The availability of a realistic, substitute visitation schedule. Id.
Mother argued that the move to Virginia would significantly better the parties’ child’s life as Mother intended to move into an affluent neighborhood with her fiancée. Mother claimed that with her fiancée’s income, which exceeded Mother’s and Father’s income greatly, Mother intended to provide the parties’ child with opportunities to which the child would not otherwise have access. In addition, Mother offered to transport the child to and from Virginia every other weekend to visit Father and to allow Father increased visitation with the child over the summer and during the child’s vacations from school.
Father claimed that Mother’s desire to move was based on a whim, as she had met her fiancée on the internet and did not have a stable relationship with him. In addition, Father argued that Mother’s fiancée’s income did not provide enough basis on which to allow Mother to relocate. Finally, Father expressed his opinion that no adequate substitute visitation schedule could be created once the child was living in Virginia.
The trial court agreed with Mother that her proposed relocation was in the child’s best interests and allowed Mother to move to Virginia. Father appealed and the Superior Court affirmed, finding the child would benefit from living in a better neighborhood, attending a better school and having the opportunity to participate in activities paid for by Mother’s fiancée.
Hogrelius is another example in a long string of appellate cases involving relocation where I could imagine the outcome going either way. Perhaps this inability to predict such cases is exactly the reason they are so often appealed.