Mother and father were married in 1980. They have three children: age 4; age 2; and an infant. The parties separated in November, 1989. On November 15, 1989, the court issued an order that gave shared legal and primary physical custody to mother and gave father visitation on alternate weekends and numerous, specified holidays.
Mother became increasingly depressed and isolated in her surroundings. Her deteriorating psychological state was the result of many factors including the confrontations with her husband, a perceived animosity from her in-laws, a lack of emotional support in the absence of friends or family, and anxiety about having to move from her apartment which no longer was going to be available to her through her in-laws.
As a result Mother decided that the best alternative for herself and the children would be to relocate to an area where she would have family and support nearby and where she begin caring for her children in a more stress-free and promising environment. Mother’s brother and sister-in-law live in Illinois invited her and the children to live with them in their home and, in addition, offered to support them until she became self-sufficient.
Father learned of mother’s intentions to leave Pennsylvania. Father filed a petition with the Court to prevent Mother from leaving the state with the children pending a further hearing before a judge.
A hearing was held on February 26, 1990, both mother and father testified regarding the potential impact of the move. Mother explained that her brother had offered her and the children a home, support and help with future employment. She testified that her brother was her closest relative and that other relatives were at even greater geographical distances.
The trial court must consider:
The custodial parent’s desire to exercise autonomy over basic decisions that will directly affect his or her life and that of the children; a child’s strong interest in maintaining and developing a meaningful relationship with the non-custodial parent; the interest of the non-custodial parent in sharing in the love and rearing of his or her children; and finally, the state’s interest in protecting the best interests of the children.
With this in mind, the Court enumerated the following three factors for consideration by trial courts:
- The potential advantages of the proposed move, economic or otherwise, and the likelihood the move would improve substantially the quality of life for the custodial parent and the children and is not the result of a momentary whim on the part of the custodial parent;
- The integrity of the motive of both the custodial and non-custodial parent in either seeking the move or seeking to prevent it; and
- The availability of realistic, substitute arrangements which will adequately foster an ongoing relationship between the child and the non-custodial parent.
Thus, in every relocation dispute the following interests must be accommodated as nearly as possible: the custodial parent’s desire to exercise autonomy over basic decisions that will directly affect his or her life and that of the children; a child’s strong interest in maintaining and developing a meaningful relationship with the non-custodial parent; the interest of the non-custodial parent in sharing in the love and rearing of his or her children; and, finally, the state’s interest in protecting the best interests of the children.
The Court concluded that the mother should be permitted to relocate to Illinois with her children and infant. In contrast to her situation in Pennsylvania, the contemplated move to Illinois offers the mother the opportunity to approach the future and raise the children surrounded and supported by family and friends. Her brother and his wife have offered to have her and the children live with them in their home. They have promised financial support for the present and aid in securing employment in the future. The move apparently would place her closer to where she grew up and would allow her to re-establish a network of friends from her past, with whom she has kept in touch. Finally, the move would allow her to escape the turmoil and troubled confrontations with her estranged husband.
Finally, there does not appear to be any overly burdensome impediment to a revised, realistic visitation schedule which adequately could foster a continuing relationship between father and the children. Father testified to an annual leave time of thirty days from his job. He further testified that his parents could help him with child care in the event he had partial custody of the children during times when he had to work. Father appears to have an extensive and seemingly close family nearby to help him during times when he might assume the role of primary caregiver. No doubt father would prefer to retain the status quo and achieve easier, more frequent access to his children. However, weighing this factor, as we must, against the demonstrated substantial advantages of the proposed move for mother and children, we cannot say that the shifting of the accustomed visitation arrangements warrants depriving mother and the children of the benefits of the move.