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Custody and Relocation: What Grey’s Anatomy Got Wrong

On Behalf of | May 27, 2016 | Child Custody

Fans of Grey’s Anatomy tuned into a full-scale custody trial last week as Callie and Arizona battled over their daughter, Sophia. For those unfamiliar, Callie and Arizona are the parents of an 8 year old child whom they have shared custody of since their divorce on the prime time medical drama based in Seattle. Recently, Callie’s girlfriend received a job offer in NYC precipitating Callie’s request to move with the child. Nearly a full episode was dedicated to a custody trial as a judge heard testimony from witnesses and determined whether the child would relocate with Callie to NYC or remain in Seattle with Arizona. As Grey’s has always focused on the medical field, it should come as no surprise that the depiction of a custody trial wasn’t quite on the mark, at least based on Pennsylvania Law. Read on to see three things Grey’s got wrong:

Burden of proof – Technically the type of case Callie and Arizona went to trial on would be considered a Relocation. Callie is asking the court to grant her the right to relocate with the child. Under Pennsylvania law, the party requesting a relocation must notify the non-custodial parent 60 days prior to relocation, at which time the other parent can either consent or object. If a party objects, the court will ultimately make a ruling as to whether the relocation can occur. The custody trial on Grey’s Anatomy seemed to place the burden on Arizona to convince the court why the child should not be uprooted from her home in Seattle. Under PA law, the burden is on the party requesting the relocation to prove the relocation is in the best interests of the child. The court will utilize 10 factors, to determine whether the relocation is appropriate. The court will also address the 16 general PA custody factors in any order. The relocating parent must show the court why the child should be permitted to relocate and how the relationship with the other parent will continue if the relocation is granted.

Effect of adoption – There came a time during Arizona’s testimony that Callie’s attorney started to insinuate that because Arizona was not the birth mother of the child, her claim for custody was 

somehow less valid than Callie’s. According to the show, Arizona had legally adopted the child, and under PA law there would be no difference between her custody rights and Callie’s. Once the adoption was final, the court would not recognize a distinction between biological and adoptive parents and a PA judge would likely not have permitted this line of questioning.

Custody factors – While fans understand that Grey’s Anatomy is merely a tv show, the immediate determination by the judge following the conclusion of the trial may set viewers up for unreasonable expectations. Under PA law, judges are required to issue orders on all custody matters which will address each one of the custody factors. Judges do not simply reveal their ruling at the conclusion of the trial. Furthermore, there needs to be a well-reasoned explanation for the decision based on all of the factors at issue. On a related note, those well-versed in family law watching along may have noticed that the judge granted Arizona sole physical custody of the child. Based on the nature of the trial and the surrounding conversations it was likely an incorrect statement, as Arizona would have been granted primary physical custody, but Callie certainly would have retained the right for visitation or partial physical custody.

If you are facing a relocation issue, or have other questions about the custody process, contact the experienced family law attorneys at McMorrow Law, LLC at (724) 940-0100.