Pennsylvania Child Custody Questions

Pennsylvania child custody lawyers provide answers to frequently asked questions with regards to Pennsylvania child custody and custody laws.

Who will get custody of our child?

Long-standing law in Pennsylvania is that the most important consideration when determining custody is the best interest of the child. To determine the child’s best interests, the court must look at all factors that legitimately impact the child physically, intellectually, morally and spiritually.

The court will take many factors into account to make this determination, including but not limited to the child’s preference, custody arrangements of sibling, which party has typically been the primary caretaker, etc.

What is joint custody? What is sole custody?

Joint physical custody, also called shared custody, is an arrangement where custody is shared by both parents in such a manner that assures both parents have continuous contact with the child. It is important to note that parties can share custody and not have equal time with the child. Parents may have shared physical and legal custody.

Generally, even if one party has primary physical custody the parties will share legal custody, or the right to make decisions for the child. Sole custody is the award of both physical and legal custody of the child to one parent. Sole physical custody is rarely granted.

If both parents share custody does anyone pay child support?

Possibly. Support obligations are determined by calculating the disparity in parties’ incomes. If a child spends 40% or more overnights per year with a noncustodial parent, a rebuttable presumption exists that the noncustodial parent is entitled to a reduction in their child support obligation.

If the parties have equally shared custody there may not be a support order if their incomes are substantially the same. If one parent makes more money than the other, there will generally be an order for child support even if the parties equally share custody.

Do grandparents have custody and visitation rights?

Yes. In Pennsylvania, the Grandparents Visitation Act provides grandparents with automatic standing to bring a petition for physical and legal custody of a grandchild. If it is in the best interest of the child not to be in the custody of either parent and if it is in the best interest of the child to be in the custody of the grandparent, the court may award physical and legal custody to the grandparent.

This applies to grandparents who (1) have genuine care and concern for the child; (2) whose relationship with the child began with the consent of a parent of the child or pursuant to an order of court; and (3) who for 12 months has assumed the role and responsibilities of the child’s parent.

Grandparents may also petition for partial custody and visitation. If an unmarried child has resided with his grandparents for a period of 12 months or more and is subsequently removed from the home by his parents, the grandparents may petition the court for an order granting them reasonable partial custody or visitation rights, or both, to the child. This custody may not interfere with the parent-child relationship.

It is also important to note that the time frame cannot be met by having the child and parent living with grandparents.

What can I expect from temporary orders?

If a custody complaint has been filed, a party may present a motion before the court for interim custody. This motion can be tailored to the party’s specific desires regarding a temporary custody order.

Generally speaking, an interim order will not be more than partial custody as the courts are trying to ensure that the party has guaranteed time with the child and not to circumvent the custody process.

When will child custody be decided?

Because the Pennsylvania family system is trifurcated, custody actions may be brought on their own or as part of divorce or support actions. The custody system is designed to help the parties reach an agreement regarding a custody schedule.

If no agreement can be reached, a decision on custody will not be made until the judge hears the case.

When can I modify custody?

Custody can be modified at any time at the initiation of either party, keeping in mind that the paramount consideration for determining custody is the best interest of the child.

A change in circumstances is not required to modify a custody order, however, it may be unlikely to obtain a change in the schedule if there has been no change in circumstances.

What if we cannot agree on a custody arrangement?

If parties cannot reach an agreement on a custody arrangement, they may be ordered to participate in mandatory educational and/or mediation sessions. If an arrangement still cannot be reached, court intervention may be necessary. A judge will ultimately decide the custody arrangement if the parties cannot reach an agreement on their own.

How is custody decided?

It depends. The court will take many factors into account when determining custody. Depending on the child’s age, intelligence and maturity, the child’s preference can be taken into consideration. Other potential factors include the parties’ work schedules and past abusive conduct on the part of either party.

The paramount consideration is what is in the best interests of the child. As this is a fact-specific standard, it is difficult to pinpoint one way in which custody is decided.

What is visitation?

Visitation differs from custody. If a party has “visitation rights” they are not permitted to take actual physical custody of the child. The party is simply allowed to spend time with the child while the child is in control of another person.

Can a judge order supervised visitation or no visitation?

While a judge may order limited visitation rights, visitation is rarely denied completely. It is against public policy in Pennsylvania to destroy the relationship between parent and child.

Supervised visitation can occur with the supervisor being a family member or friend or by a neutral third party. If a neutral third party does the supervision there is generally a charge for the service.

Do courts favor the mother over the father?

While the court is to take all factors into consideration equally, unfortunately there can be attitudes residual of antiquated methods of parenting which place emphasis on the mother’s role as primary caretaker. This is why in custody matters it is important to have an advocate who can be your voice in an often lopsided judicial system.

Will my child need to appear in court?

It depends. Depending on the child’s age and maturity level, a judge may request to speak with the child should the custody litigation proceed to a hearing. Often, the child will not have to formally testify but will speak with the judge in his office.