Child relocation and custody order modification are among the most common issues discussed by family law attorneys. Several notable cases have reached the state Superior Court. One recent case provides important insight regarding both matters. The case involved a couple who had two children during the course of their marriage. Upon separating, the father filed a complaint for custody. One day after he filed the complaint, both parties entered a stipulated custody agreement giving the mother primary physical custody of the children pending the custody trial.
Several orders followed, including one that specifically prohibited the mother from relocating without court approval. One month later, the mother filed a counterclaim to the father’s custody complaint and a notice of her intention to relocate with the children to a town more than an hour and a half away. The father responded by objecting to her proposed relocation.
Before receiving the court’s permission to move, the mother relocated, bought a house, and enrolled the children in a new school. She was found in contempt and her primary physical custody was thereby reduced to shared custody. That order was to remain effective until the primary custody dispute was resolved. The mother responded by filing a timely appeal.
The case was brought before the Superior Court in effort to determine if the court’s order was eligible for appeal because it was temporary, effective until custody was finally determined. Contempt orders are final and subject to appeal when sanctions are opposed, however, because the court system often moves at a slow pace, temporary orders often tend to last so long they effectively become permanent.
The Court found the mother in contempt, noting that she acknowledged the trial court’s order specifically prohibiting any relocation that impairs the other parent’s custodial rights. She argued that even though she relocated, her former spouse was given more custodial time after the move than he had prior to the move. Because the mother issued a notice of her intention to relocate, the court considered that proof that she believed the move fell under the court’s definition of relocation.
Ultimately, the Superior Court held that custody changes could not be made during a contempt sanction without first disclosing to both parties that physical custody would be addressed at the hearing. The case is important because it establishes that a notice to appear for contempt must include language stating that child custody changes may potentially be changed at the hearing.
The case is also significant in that it essentially rendered all child custody orders temporary in nature. This is because they are subject to modification whenever it benefits a child’s best interests. Temporary custody or partial custody can be awarded under special relief, but in this case, because the order was filed under contempt instead, the father was not given shared physical custody.
To achieve the best resolution for you and your children, you need the counsel of lawyer who is on top of recent changes in state child custody and relocation guidelines. The Delaware County child custody lawyers at Eckell, Sparks, Levy, Auerbach, Monte, Sloane, Matthews & Auslander, P.C. have experience handling a variety of family law issues, including complex child custody cases. Call 610-565-3700 today or submit an online inquiry to schedule a consultation with Media child custody lawyer in one of our two conveniently located offices in Media and West Chester, where we represent clients in Delaware County, Chester County, and Montgomery County, including those in the communities of Media, West Chester, and Norristown, Pennsylvania.