What You Need To Know About Custody  In Pennsylvania 

Why do I need a lawyer?

With over half of marriages ending in divorce in the United States, custody issues are bound to arise. Custody issues can be a source of great anguish, especially for the children. Most individuals are unaware of the complexities involved in custody battles and how to protect their children through what most likely will be a difficult process. It is therefore highly recommended that proper legal advice is sought in order to best prepare and present your case.

Before awarding custody to one parent over another, judges must consider whether each party, or anyone in party’s household, has been convicted of a list of crimes which include:

  • contempt of an order,
  • DUI and possession of a controlled substance.

Either party can now request a criminal background check on the other party or anyone in that party’s household.

It isn’t black and white

The court cannot presume that custody should be awarded to a particular parent based on gender (e.g., they cannot presume that younger children are better off with their mother, or that fathers are better suited to raise boys, etc.). More and more, the courts are now awarding custody on a 50/50 basis.

Both physical custody and legal custody exist in the state of Pennsylvania. Physical custody is the physical possession of a child; this can be in the form of sole custody (when one party alone has physical custody); shared custody (both parties share custody, with each having significant periods of time with the child); partial custody (when one partyhas the child for less time than the other); primary custody (when one party has the child for majority of the time); and supervised custody (when an agency or another adult monitors visits between party and child).

Legal custody gives the party a right to make major decision in the child’s life which typically include decisions involving education, religious up-bringing and medical procedures/actions. Legal custody can also be shared or sole and can be integrated into any form of physical custody.

Additionally, multiple parties can seek custody; this is not a sole right of biological parents. Parents, grandparents, persons who stand in place of the parent and great-grandparents can file for full or partial custody in many instances.

How are decisions made?

Judges make custody decisions in Pennsylvania based on many factors. It is important to remember that custody battles are for the sole purpose of insuring that the best interests of the child are protected. The judge must now consider specific enumerated factors including, but not limited to the following:

  • Which party is more likely to encourage and promote frequent and continued contact between the child and other party?
  • Any present and past abuse committed by each party and anyone within their household.
  • The parental duties performed by each party on behalf of the child or children.
  • The availability of extended family to the minor child.
  • The preference of the child (based on maturity and judgment).
  • Any past or future attempts to turn the child against the other party. This includes making disparaging remarks about the other parent on social media websites such as Twitter and Facebook.

What if I want to move?

The current law governing whether a party may relocate out of the court’s jurisdiction has also been completely rewritten. In Pennsylvania, if you want to relocate out of state and there is a custody order in place, the relocation cannot properly occur unless all parties to the custody order give consent OR the judge approves the relocation. If all parties do not give consent, the judge will weigh the following factors:

  • The age, development stage and need of the child.
  • Whether the relocation will improve the general quality of life financially, emotionally and educationally for the parent and the child.
  • The reasons for seeking relocation as well as the reasons for opposing parties’ oppositions.
  • The possibility of continuing a relationship between the non-relocating party and the child through appropriate custody arrangements taking into account financial resources and location of both parties.

Another significant factor is that the party wishing to relocate must follow a formal procedure sending notification to the other party. The other party has only 30 days to object or they forfeit their right to challenge the move. If you get a notice from your ex asking to relocate, do not procrastinate! Call an attorney immediately!

Living separate but apart

Under the new law, parents who are still living together may apply for a custody order, which becomes effective immediately after the actual physical separation occurs. In the past, the court would not enter an order until the parties were living separate and apart. This caused much uncertainty and stress, as the too common scene would occur where the custodial parent could keep the children from the noncustodial parent, forcing the noncustodial parent to file an emergency custody petition.

Obviously custody battles can be very contentious, stressful and traumatic for all parties involved. Therefore, proper legal advice is necessary to allow for an effective resolution of all issues. If anything, these new laws promote consistency and allow both parties a fair shot at seeing their children on a regular basis.

Our firm has extensive experience in Family Law. If you are seeking legal representation in a custody matter, or another Family Law matter, please contact us for more information.

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