Our Custody Lawyers Are Ready to Help

Having the right family law attorney working on your behalf to help you understand your rights and obligations under the law is one of the most important decisions you can make. If you need a custody lawyer near you in Bucks or Montgomery Counties, make sure you talk with an attorney from our local law firm. In the meantime, check out our tips for helping you with your custody case.


A Family Law Firm Well-Versed in Pennsylvania Custody Factors

Judges must rule on custody issues according to the children's best interests. As a result, their ruling considers the most critical PA custody factors. Some of those considerations include:

  • Which party is more likely to encourage and permit frequent, and continued, contact between the child and another party?
  • Is there a history of child abuse?
  • Which party can better provide adequate physical safeguards and supervision of the child?
  • What parental duties are performed by each party on behalf of the child?
  • Stability and continuity relating to the child's education, family life, and community life.
  • The availability of extended family.
  • The child's sibling relationships.
  • Does the child have a preference regarding parent?
  • Have there been parental attempts to turn the child against the other parent?
  • 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 child's daily physical, emotional, developmental, educational, and unique needs?
  • What is 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.
  • What is the level of conflict between the parties? Is there a willingness and ability of the parties to cooperate?
  • Does either party or member of the party's household have a history of drug or alcohol abuse?

After establishing a custody schedule, various management tools can help set parents up for successful co-parenting and smoother transitions between homes, including online family calendars and centralized communication systems. In addition, our custody lawyers can provide you with more details.

Understanding the Types of Custody

In many instances, a divorce decree specifies where your children will live. But, it's always best to work out an amicable arrangement voluntarily or with the support of a mediator. However, when that's not possible, the courts will intervene and decide for you based on the child's best interests. As a result, a qualified family lawyer can help guide you through either situation to help provide an appropriate solution.

Typical forms of custody handed by courts include the following:

Physical and Legal Custody: The court awards physical custody to one parent, and the child lives with that parent most of the time. But the custodial parent shares actual legal custody of the child. Sharing custody means both parents can decide about the child's education, religion, health care, and other critical issues.

Joint Custody: With joint custody, the child spends nearly equal time with both parents. So it requires a great deal of cooperation between parents. As a result, many courts are reluctant to grant joint custody unless both parents agree and can demonstrate the ability to make collective decisions on behalf of the child's best interest.

Split Custody: Here, one parent receives custody of one or more children, while the other parent retains custody of others. Most courts prefer to avoid this route.

Custody and Unmarried Parents: Typically, custody laws in Pennsylvania require that the mother gain sole physical custody unless the father acts. Consequently, an unwed father can rarely win control over a mother that has demonstrated being a good parent.

Third Party Custody

What is Third Party Custody?

Sometimes people, other than parents, face whether they should 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. Therefore, parents in custody disputes gain favor over anyone who is not a parent. However, in certain situations, it is possible to overcome this presumption in favor of the parent. Doing so involves two distinct steps.

First, an individual must establish standing, their right to bring a claim before the court. Without standing, a person cannot request any form of custody. For example, adoptive or natural parents automatically have standing, but with third-party custody, a person must meet specific criteria to qualify for standing. Talk to a custody attorney at our family law firm in Bucks County if you need help establishing standing.

Custody Involving Grandparents

Grandparent Standing

Of all third-party custody options, grandparents have the easiest time qualifying for standing. A grandparent of the child can be eligible for standing to have primary physical and legal custody of a child if:

  1. The grandparent's relationship with the child resulted from parental consent or through a court order;
  2. The grandparent accepts or is willing to assume responsibility for the child; and
  3. By meeting one of the following conditions:
    • The child is declared 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; or
    • For at least 12 consecutive months, the child has resided with the grandparent, excluding brief temporary absences. Subsequently, the parents remove the child from home and file an action within six months of the child's removal.

In addition to the situations discussed above, which give grandparents a right to file for primary physical custody, Pennsylvania law also permits grandparents the right to request partial physical custody (aka visitation) in the following three circumstances:

  1. If the grandchild's parent is deceased; or
  2. The grandchild lived with the grandparents for twelve consecutive months. Then, the grandparents filed an action within six months the grandchild's removed from their home; or
  3. The grandparent's relationship with the child began with parental consent or court order. Next, the child's parents commenced a custody proceeding. However, the parents disagree on whether the grandparents should have custody.

In loco parentis Standing

Any person (relative, nonrelative, step-parent, etc.) who is "in loco parentis" to the child has standing to file for any form of custody. The term in loco parentis means "in the place of a parent." There are two components to in loco parentis standing. First, the person in loco parentis must have assumed parental status. Second, the parents are discharged from their parental duties. Generally speaking, the parents must consent to and know the person's standing in loco parents.

Catch-All Third Party Custody Standing

Even if a third party is not a grandparent or a person in loco parentis, there is a catch-all provision under which a non-parent can qualify for standing. Under Pennsylvania law, for example, an individual (not just family members) can gain custody as long as the child is not part of a dependency proceeding. First, however, the following three criteria require proof:

  1. The third-party assumes or is willing to accept responsibility for the child;
  2. The third party has a sustained, substantial, and sincere interest in the child's welfare. That interest relates to the nature, quality, extent, and length of the involvement in the child's life;
  3. Neither parent has any form of care and control of the child.

Best Interest Analysis

Standing is only the first hurdle a third party must overcome to gain custody of a child. Next, the third party must prove to the court that it is in the child's best interest for them to grant custody. The court will then consider whether or not the grandparent should be awarded custody of the child by analyzing the sixteen custody factors outlined in 23 Pa. C.S.A. § 5328(a).

In cases where 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 before filing the action. In cases where establishing standing 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 the parent-child relationship.

What should you do if you are someone seeking custody of a child?

As the above information is general concerning third-party custody, and not specific to your circumstances, we recommend you consult with a custody attorney. The above is not legal advice or a substitute for legal representation.


What if a parent with custody wants to move?

Custody relocation describes a scenario where one parent wishes to move. Consequently, that move will "significantly impair the ability of a non-relocating party to exercise custodial rights."

As our society becomes increasingly mobile, custody cases with relocation at issue have become more prominent. For example, one parent may want or need to relocate for various reasons. Those reasons might include career/educational opportunities, military assignments, or family support systems. In addition, remote work opportunities that come with no restrictions on location also open the doors for custody relocation challenges.

If the hassle of moving is not enough on its own, parents seeking relocation will have to gain the other parent's permission or the court before any relocation. Whether you are the parent attempting to move with your children or trying to prevent the move, Pennsylvania custody laws carry stringent requirements. Those requirements include providing written notice of the intended relocation within certain timelines and with certain specific information.

The other party (the non-moving party) has the opportunity to object to the relocation and changes in the custody schedule resulting from the move. So if the parties cannot agree on the proposed relocation and changes to the custody schedule, the court must hold an expedited hearing. That hearing evaluates both parties' claims to determine whether the relocation will be permitted. It also specifies how and if the court will alter the custody schedule.

Factors in Determining Custody Relocation

During the hearing, the court must consider certain factors, including:

(1)  The nature, quality, extent of involvement, and duration of the child's relationship with the party proposing to relocate. Those same factors apply to the non-relocating party, siblings, and other significant persons in the child's life.

(2)  The age, developmental stage, needs of the child, and the likely impact the custody relocation will have on the child's physical, educational, and emotional development, considering any child's special needs.

(3)  The feasibility of preserving the relationship with the non-relocating party and the child through suitable custody arrangements. Those arrangements consider the logistics and financial circumstances of the parties.

(4)  The child's preference, taking into consideration the age and maturity of the child.

(5)  Whether there is an established pattern of conduct of either party to promote or thwart the child's relationship and the other party.

(6)  Whether the relocation will enhance the general quality of life for the party seeking relocation, including, but not limited to, financial or emotional benefit or educational opportunity.

(7)  Whether the relocation will enhance the general quality of life for the child, including, but not limited to, financial or emotional benefit or educational opportunity.

(8)  The reasons and motivation of each party for seeking or opposing the relocation.

(9)  Any abuse committed by a party or member of the party's household. Plus, the presence of continued risk.

(10)  Other factors affecting the child's best interest.

Gestational Surrogacy

Despite a lack of statutory guidance, Pennsylvania is considered to be a state favorable towards the rapidly growing trends in gestational surrogacy involving assisted reproduction, surrogacy generally, and the contractual nature of the surrogacy relationship. Currently, being surrogate mother in New Jersey and New York for money is illegal.

Surrogacy most commonly refers to the gestation of a child by a woman who does intend to be the child’s legal mother (“the carrier”) but instead carries the child for another for the child’s intended parents. There are two types of surrogacy:  traditional and gestational. In traditional surrogacy, the carrier is also the biological mother who has become pregnant via artificial insemination of the intended father’s sperm. In gestational surrogacy, the carrier’s own eggs are not used, but rather she is impregnated via in vitro fertilization using the genetic materials of both intended parents.

Surrogacy relationships can be established via a contract between the carrier and the intended parents. Recently, the Pennsylvania Superior Court has affirmed such agreements as valid and enforceable legal contracts, which are not void against public policy. The Pennsylvania Courts treat gestational surrogacy cases involving opposite-sex intended parents equally as with same-sex cases.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health set forth the policy and procedures for the registration of an assisted conception birth, making it possible for the intended parents and the gestational carrier to obtain a birth certificate reflecting the intended parents as the legal parents without having to go through the adoption procedure.

Adoption

Adoption is an exciting process, but you'll need a good adoption lawyer to guide you through the legal requirements that can make it daunting.  Adoption laws vary from state to state, so it is important that you consider carefully the laws of the state in which you plan to adopt.  Some Pennsylvania residents complete their adoptions in another state, depending on the circumstances involved in the adoption, such as the home state of the birthparents and that state’s requirements. It may be necessary to retain an adoption attorney in the state where the adoption is taking place.

In Pennsylvania, residents (and sometimes qualifying non-residents, depending on the nature of the adoption) may adopt in several different circumstances, including step-parent adoption, international adoption, domestic adoption with the consent of the birthparents, adoption after the involuntary termination of the parental rights of the birthparents, and adult adoption.  Each type of adoption presents its own challenges, and the process for each varies.

Individuals who are considering an adoption, of any type, often share the following questions and concerns:

  • Who may adopt in Pennsylvania?
  • What is involved in the adoption process?
  • Do I need to have a home study?
  • Will I have to go to court?
  • How long will the adoption process take?

While the answers to the above vary depending on the type of adoption, an adoption attorney can assist you in navigating the adoption process and achieving the ultimate goal of adding to your family.

Talk with Our Custody Lawyers If You're Facing a Dispute

In some instances, compromise or mediation can address custody in Pennsylvania. We have family law attorneys available to help with the mediation process.

In other instances, a judge must resolve the dispute. Our custody lawyers 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.


Custody Attorneys

Melissa (Missy) M. Boyd

Melissa Boyd Family Law Attorney Arbitrator High Swartz Norristown Pa

As a family law attorney, Melissa M. Boyd advocates in various areas, including divorce, pre-nuptial and post-divorce agreements, child custody and support, equitable distribution, alimony, adoptions, protection from abuse, and juvenile law.

Mary Cushing Doherty

Mary Cushing Doherty | family law Attorney | High Swartz Attorneys at Law

Mary Cushing Doherty is a senior partner at our firm. As an attorney, she concentrates her practice on all aspects of marital dissolution and family issues.

Judith A. Algeo

Judith Algeo bucks county pa family law attorney

Judith A. Algeo is a skilled family law attorney in Bucks County, PA. She represents individuals in all matters of family law including divorce, child custody, child support, spousal support and alimony, and equitable distribution.

Elizabeth C. Early

Elizabeth Early | family law Attorney | High Swartz

A family law attorney, Elizabeth C. Early practice focuses on divorce, custody, parenting coordination, equitable distribution, marital agreements, and abuse matters.

Jennifer R. Ryan

family law attorney jennifer r ryan of doylestown pennsylvania at High Swartz attorneys for law

Jennifer R. Ryan is a Doylestown attorney practicing family law, including child custody and support, divorce, and protection from abuse.

Chelsey A. Christiansen

Chelsey christiansen Family and Child Advocacy Attorney

As a family lawyer, Chelsey A. Christiansen focuses her legal practice on family and juvenile law, litigation, divorce, child support, custody, and advocacy.

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