Seven decisions published in the last few months reveal just how significant an issue parent relocation remains. Perhaps it results from a difficult economy; perhaps a simple reflection of our mobile society.
Whatever the cause, these decisions reveal the judicial system’s agony when trying to predict the “best interest of a child.”
Four of these decisions come out of upstate’s Appellate Division, Third Department. To begin, in its December 8, 2011 decision in Kirshy-Stallworth v. Chapman, the appellate court affirmed the order of Ulster County Family Court Judge Anthony McGinty which dismissed a mother’s petition to relocate with her eight-year-old daughter and current husband to Western Pennsylvania. The Third Department noted that:
a lower-court decision “will not be disturbed if supported by a sound and substantial basis in the record.”
The court recognized that, admittedly, there were benefits to the mother which might support a decision to allow the relocation. She was disabled and receiving Social Security disability benefits while her husband had suffered a work-related injury and had difficulty finding suitable employment. He was offered a job in a car dealership by the mother’s uncle. There was lower-court testimony of the mother’s excellent parenting, the father’s failure to fully avail himself of visitation rights, and the mother’s promise to facilitate visits with the father after her move.
However, there was a lack of evidence that the mother’s current community was unsatisfactory, or that the child’s current school was not meeting her needs. There was insufficient evidence that the educational opportunities for the child were any better in Pennsylvania. The plans for the mother’s housing and her husband’s employment were not certain. With such a record, the appellate court could not conclude that Judge McGinty’s determination, that the mother had failed to demonstrate that relocation would be in the child’s best interest, lacked a sound in substantial basis. Accordingly, the dismissal of the mother’s petition was affirmed.