New Husband’s Career Advancement Does Not Justify Custody Relocation
The era of blended families presents dilemmas that family lawyers might recognize but remarrying spouses do not contemplate when they say “I do (again).” After divorce, a parent’s opportunities for careeer advancement may be limited, if he or she cannot relocate geographically for work or will not be relieved of a child support obligation temporarily to pursue further education. These limitations might also impact upon new spouses who bind their futures to parents who are under such restrictions. The Superior Court addressed this issue in a non-precedential opinion in D.A.R. v. Y.J.B. f/k/a Y.J.R., No 1765 EDA 2012 (February 15, 2012).
In D.A.R., the mother had primary physical custody of two children, ages 10 and 7. Their father exercised partial custody four overnights every two weeks, plus midweek visits. Mother’s new husband, the children’s stepfather, voluntarily resigned a good-paying job to accept a better position with a startup company promising equity ownership. His new job required a four-hour roundtrip commute each day, however, prompting Mother and stepfather to petition for custody relocation from Lehigh County to Chester County. Mother complied with the relocation procedures prescribed by the new custody law.
The trial court denied Mother’s request, partially because Mother would have to commute each day if she retained her employment in Lehigh County, diminishing her availability to the children. The trial court also found that Mother’s relocation would extinguish Father’s opportunities for interaction with the children during his midweek visits.
On appeal, the Superior Court dismissed Mother’s suggestion that her proposed move was not really a “relocation” under the custody law because it would not significantly impair the custody rights of the non-relocating parent. The Court held that Mother initiated the custody proceeding by serving the required relocation notice and never argued at the trial court level that her move was not technically a “relocation,” so the issue was waived.
Mother argued vigorously that the trial court failed to appreciate the stepfather’s opportunity for career advancement, and the hardship imposed on him if he should have to sacrifice the chance or commute. The Superior Court affirmed the trial court’s opinion that stepfather’s career ambitions did not outweigh the children’s interest in maximum contact with their parents; and stepfather’s career decision was not motivated by economic necessity.
Would the outcome have been different if Mother had proposed to resign her job and perhaps take a pay cut to work in Chester County? Or if Mother and stepfather decide to move to a residence midway between Lehigh and Chester to minimize their commutes? Who knows?