We have written on this subject before reporting a Superior Court decision earlier this year that put a new focus on benefit to the children as a condition to successfully secure an order allowing a parent to relocate. The rule of precedent requires trial court judges to pay attention to and follow Superior Court rulings and three recent decisions in Berks County appear to demonstrate that the trial courts are taking heed.
On August 14 Judge Scott Lash issued a ruling in Miller v. Lee. In that case a mother’s new husband had been offered employment in Alabama. He had accepted the job and purchased a home there by the time of trial. The parties had been working under a 2009 agreement which gave Mother primary physical. While the Court appears to have been somewhat critical of Father’s passivity concerning mechanical duties like physician appointments, it also found that Father had a solid bond with the child; that Father could not afford to travel to Alabama and that a proposed schedule that gave the child summers with Father was not an adequate substitute even though the actual time allotment was roughly equivalent. Although the increase in the pay for the stepfather was substantial, the Court did not see it as worthy of disrupting Father’s regular involvement in all aspects of the child’s life. It was also noted that this was not a relocation that would produce a termination if not accepted.
Two weeks late Judge Lash ruled in Thompson v. Stoudt. Here the parties had an informal week on/off arrangement for their two children. Mother asked to move from Berks to Carbon county to live with another man. Again, the court found Father’s conduct to be less than exemplary finding that Father was prone to snap at the children. But the Court still found the relationship positive and the parties hereto fore, cooperative. It being clear that the relocation would disrupt the 50/50 schedule and noting no enhanced benefit to the children in particular the Court denied the relocation.
On September 28, Judge James Bucci issued his ruling in Moore v. Moore. In this case the parents had adopted a child from West Africa and brought him home to Berks County. Shortly thereafter the couple separated but they shared the now six year old child on an equal basis. Mother formed a relationship with a man who resided in Delaware County and filed a request for relocation. Shortly thereafter she enrolled the child in activities in Delaware County and otherwise presumed that her request would be granted despite Father’s filed opposition. The Court took umbrage at what it perceived to be a desire on mother’s part to relocate the child before the Court could act on her request. With Mother having sold her home in anticipation of the relocation, the Court ordered that the child reside primarily with Father until the relocation trial could be held. Following the trial the court made the temporary placement permanent holding that Mother’s approach to the entire matter was disruptive to a young child who already had endured a move from one continent to another and a fairly immediate divorce by his adoptive parents. While Mother posed that the school system in Delaware County was superior to that in Berks, the Court found that any advantages the school system might offer were undercut by the potential loss of continuous contact with the Father.
Each of these opinions is extensive: 20-30 pages. Both litigants and their counsel are encouraged to study how courts are addressing these intensely emotional cases. The first two cases are PICS Case Nos. 12-2128 and 12-2145. As we have reported earlier, the moral to the story appears to be that relocation is not going to be easily granted unless there is a well defined plan and a palpable direct benefit to the child.