Custody litigation is oftentimes one of the most emotionally-charged parts of case. In today’s world, custody cases can involve parents, grandparents and even third parties. We work closely with you in order to help you identify and articulate your objectives, develop a sound understanding of your rights and obligations under the law, and execute the legal strategy that is right for your unique facts, goals and circumstances.
Legal and Physical Custody
There are two types of custody: legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody is the right to make major decisions on behalf of your children like where they attend school and what medical treatments they receive. Physical custody is where the children spend their time.
Best Interest of the Children/Factor Analysis
Judges are required to decide child custody issues according to the best interests of the children involved, and they must make detailed findings of fact that demonstrate a careful consideration of the factors that Pennsylvania law deems most important, which include:
- Which party is more likely to encourage and permit frequent and continuing contact between the child and another party.
- The present and past abuse committed by a party or member of the party's household, whether there is a continued risk of harm to the child or an abused party and which party can better provide adequate physical safeguards and supervision of the child.
(2.1) The information set forth in section 5329.1(a) (relating to consideration of child abuse and involvement with protective services).
- 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.
- Any other relevant factor.
If you are not the biological or adoptive parent of the children, you will need to establish the right to pursue custody, called “standing.” This process involves an analysis of both the custody statute and a fact-specific inquiry. If you are considering pursue custody as a third person, it is highly recommended that you consult with a custody attorney to understand what you will need to establish in order to request custody.
On top of all of the Pennsylvania custody statutes, rules and caselaw, any person who finds themselves in the middle of a custody dispute should also speak with a local attorney to understand the local rules and practices of the area in which you live.
We can help you understand the likely outcomes of your custody case, reasonable timelines and local practice expectations which will help you make informed and well-reasoned decisions on how to proceed, when to settle and when to proceed to a court hearing.
Since we live in a mobile society, child relocation cases are becoming increasingly common. A parent may wish to relocate for a variety of reasons including career opportunities, educational opportunities, military assignment, family support systems or to avoid conflict with the other parent.
If the stress of moving is not enough on its own, parents seeking relocation will have to seek and obtain the other parent’s consent to the more or obtain court approval for the move, if the other parent will not agree. The Court must consider a number of factors in granting or deny any relocation request which include:
- The nature, quality, extent of involvement and duration of the child's relationship with the party proposing to relocate and with the nonrelocating party, siblings and other significant persons in the child's life.
- The age, developmental stage, needs of the child and the likely impact the relocation will have on the child's physical, educational and emotional development, taking into consideration any special needs of the child.
- The feasibility of preserving the relationship between the nonrelocating party and the child through suitable custody arrangements, considering the logistics and financial circumstances of the parties.
- The child's preference, taking into consideration the age and maturity of the child.
- Whether there is an established pattern of conduct of either party to promote or thwart the relationship of the child and the other party.
- Whether the relocation will enhance the general quality of life for the party seeking the relocation, including, but not limited to, financial or emotional benefit or educational opportunity.
- 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.
- The reasons and motivation of each party for seeking or opposing the relocation.
- The present and past abuse committed by a party or member of the party's household and whether there is a continued risk of harm to the child or an abused party.
- Any other factor affecting the best interest of the child.
Regardless of whether you are the parent attempting to move with your children or you are the parent trying to prevent the move, there are very strict requirements that must be met on both sides under the Pennsylvania’s custody laws. Be sure to consult with a family law attorney to make sure that your case is not negatively impacted by a failure to comply with those requirements and to better understand the likelihood of success in seeking or attempting to stop a relocation.