Our Child Custody Lawyers Are Near You and Ready to Help
If you’re in a need of a child custody lawyer near you the Doylestown or Norristown, PA areas, make sure you talk with an attorney from our local law firm.
Child custody cases are typically complex, emotional, and difficult to litigate. Before you begin any custody action or respond to a filing by another party, it pays to understand the framework of how custody matters are resolved and what alternatives to litigation are available. It also pays to have the right family law attorney working on your behalf the help you understand your rights and obligations under the law. We also have tips for helping you with your child custody case.
Child Custody Laws in Pennsylvania
Judges are required to rule on child custody issues according to the best interests of the children involved. Their ruling is based on considering the factors PA law deems most critical:
- Which party is more likely to encourage and permit frequent, and continued, contact between the child and another party?
- The present and past abuse committed by a party or member of the party’s household. The potential for continued risk of harm to the child or an abused party. Which party can better provide adequate physical safeguards and supervision of the child?
- The parental duties performed by each party on behalf of the child.
- The need for stability and continuity in the child’s education, family life and community life.
- The availability of extended family.
- The child’s sibling relationships.
- The well-reasoned preference of the child based on the child’s maturity and judgment.
- The attempts of a parent to turn the child against the other parent, except in cases of domestic violence where reasonable safety measures are necessary to protect the child from harm.
- Which party is more likely to maintain a loving, stable, consistent and nurturing relationship with the child adequate for the child’s emotional needs?
- Which party is more likely to attend to the daily physical, emotional, developmental, educational and special needs of the child?
- The proximity of the residences of the parties.
- Each party’s availability to care for the child or ability to make appropriate child-care arrangements.
- The level of conflict between the parties and the willingness and ability of the parties to cooperate with one another. A party’s effort to protect a child from abuse by another party is not evidence of unwillingness or inability to cooperate with that party.
- The history of drug or alcohol abuse of a party or member of a party’s household.
- The mental and physical condition of a party or member of a party’s household.
After a child custody schedule is established, there are a variety of management tools that can help set parents up for successful co-parenting and smoother transitions between homes including online family calendars and centralized communication systems. Our child custody lawyers can provide you with more details.
Understanding the Types of Child Custody
In many instances, a divorce decree specifies where your children will live. It’s always best to work out an amicable arrangement voluntarily or with the support of a mediator. When that’s not possible, the courts will intervene and make that decision for you based on the child’s best interests. Typical form of child custody handed by courts include the following.
Physical and Legal Custody: Physical custody is awarded to one parent. The child lives with that parent most of time. But the custodial parent shares actual legal custody of the child. Sharing custody means both parents can make decisions about the child’s education, religion, health care, and other critical issues.
Joint Custody: With joint custody, the child spends a nearly equal amount of time with both parents. It requires a great deal of cooperation between so many courts are reluctant to grant joint custody unless both parents agree and can demonstrate the ability to make joint decision on behalf of the child’s best interest.
Split Custody: Here, one parent received custody of one or more the child, while the other parent retains custody of others. Most courts prefer to avoid this route.
Child Custody and Unmarried Parents: Typically, state statutes require that the mother be awarded sole physical custody unless the father acts. It’s rare that an unwed father can win custody over a mother that has demonstrated being a good parent.
What About Third-Party Child Custody Cases?
All the above instances involve the actual parents of the child. But what if the parents aren’t involved?
Sometimes people, other than parents, seek third party custody of a child. Pennsylvania courts generally affirm that parents (natural or adoptive) have the legal right to care for and determine what is best for their child. Consequently, parents in custody disputes are favored over anyone who is not a parent.
In certain situations, it is possible to overcome this presumption in favor of the parent. Doing so involves two distinct steps.
- Establishing Standing: Standing refers a person’s right to bring a claim before the court. Without standing, a person cannot request any form of child custody.
- Adoptive or natural parents automatically have standing, but with third party child custody, a person must meet certain criteria in order to qualify for standing.
Child Custody Involving Grandparents
Grandparents have the easiest time qualifying for standing in child custody cases. A grandparent of the child can qualify for standing to having primary physical and legal custody of a child if:
- The grandparent’s relationship with the child began either with the consent of a parent of the child or under a court order.
- The Grandparent has assumed or is willing to assume responsibility for the child.
- One of the following conditions is met:
- The child has been determined to be a “dependent” child in juvenile court.
- The child is substantially at risk due to parental abuse, neglect, drug or alcohol abuse or incapacity.
- The child has, for a period of at least 12 consecutive months, resided with the grandparent (temporary absences are excused). The child is removed from the home by the parents. An action must be filed within six months following the child’s removal from the home.
In addition to the situations discussed, Pennsylvania law also permits grandparents the right to request partial physical custody (aka visitation) in the following three circumstances:
If the grandchild’s parent is deceased.
If the grandchild lived with the grandparents for twelve consecutive months and the grandparents filed their action within six months of the child’s removal from their home.
The grandparent’s relationship with the child began either with the consent of a parent or under a court order. And, where the parents of the child have commenced a proceeding for child custody and the parents don’t feel the child should reside with the grandparents.
Get more insights by reading, PA Act 21: Grandparent Custody and Third-Party Custody Law.
Child Custody and “In Loco Parentis”
Any person (relative, nonrelative, stepparent, etc.) who is “in loco parentis” to the child has standing to file for any form of child custody. The term in loco parentis literally means “in the place of a parent.” There are two components to in loco parentis standing:
- The person who is in loco parentis must have assumed parental status.
- The parents must have been discharged of parental duties. In loco parentis standing cannot be achieved without the consent and knowledge of, and in disregard of, the wishes of a parent.
Third Party Child Custody Cases
Pennsylvania family law provides a catch-all provision where non-parents can qualify for child custody. Apart from a family member, any individual can file for child custody if the child is not part of a dependency proceeding and the following criteria are proven to court:
- The third-party individual has assumed or is willing to assume responsibility for the child.
- The third-party individual has a sustained, substantial and sincere interest in the welfare of the child based on the nature, quality, extent and length of the involvement by the individual in the child’s life.
- Neither parent has any form of care and control of the child.
Establishing “standing” is only the first hurdle a third party must overcome in order to gain custody of a child. If standing is established, the third party must next prove to the court that it is in the child’s best interest for them to be granted custody. In doing so, the court will then consider whether the grandparent should be awarded custody of the child by analyzing the sixteen custody factors set forth in 23 Pa. C.S.A. § 5328(a).
In cases in which standing was established because the child’s parents have separated or a parent is deceased, the court must also consider the amount of personal contact between the grandparent and the child prior to filing the action. In cases where standing has been established because the child has resided with grandparents for more than 12 months, the court must consider whether awarding partial physical custody to the grandparents would interfere with parent-child relationship.
Talk with Our Child Custody Lawyers If You’re Facing a Custody Dispute
In some instances, a child custody case can be addressed through compromise or meditation. We have family law attorneys available to help with a mediation process.
In other instances, a judge must resolve the dispute. Our child custody lawyers are near you and handle cases in Montgomery and Bucks Counties. They can listen to your concerns, review the legalities, and provide appropriate legal counsel. Get the help you need. Our local law firm offers a variety of legal services. You can trust our family law attorneys to be by your side.