For quite some time now lawyers interviewing clients about a desire to move out of state with their children have had to present some grim news. The weight of authority has long been that if the non-relocating parent is in any way active in a child’s life, relocation was well night impossible to attain.
The May 2, 2022 decision in Clouser v. Clouser is a case worth putting in the Relocation/Research file. These cases are far too fact specific to summarize in this form but suffice to say mother’s husband secured a job in North Carolina 450 miles from the home county of York, Pennsylvania. The job came with a $50,000 increase in wages and the court found the school systems of equal merit. Custody had been 60% with mother 40% with father but the court credited mother with volunteering more time for dad in the period before she sought relocation. The 13 year old daughter was “all in” to move because she liked the people in North Carolina better (?). The 10 year old son saw no real advantage and preferred to stay. On these facts relocation was granted and affirmed by a panel of the Superior Court.
A side issue in this case, but one of note, was the brevity of the relocation hearing. Bear in mind the Superior Court observes that there are 27 factors to be evaluated in these proceedings. The trial court accomplished that feat and interviewed two children in a single afternoon. Father’s appeal included a claim that his case in chief was effectively truncated by the time constraints involved. The Superior Court panel found he did not preserve the record on this topic by making timely offers of proof as to what he would have done if granted more time. The opinion notes that father did not object when the court restricted his cross examination of mother with the comment “You’ve got five minutes, so make the best of it.”
If the proceedings started at 1:30, the York County courts have a posted closing time of 4:30. That’s 180 minutes to hear six witnesses (parents; stepparents; 2 kids) and assess 27 statutory factors; a tad under 7 minutes per factor, 3.5 minutes per side. We all know that many of those factors are not Germane to a case like this, but we also have lots of cases telling us the importance of custody determinations and the duty of the courts to ensure that the record is complete.
As noted, cases approving relocation to a distant state are fairly rare and despite the brevity of the hearing, there are some well-choreographed findings of fact.
Clouser v. Clouser, 1376 MDA 2021 (May 2,2022)