Child Custody - Allegheny County

Child custody is a deeply important issue with lifelong ramifications for both guardians and children. When you find yourself facing a custody issue in Allegheny County, you must have an experienced attorney fighting for your (and the child's) interests. 

Each jurisdiction throughout Pennsylvania handles child custody matters in its own way. Understanding state law, as well as procedures and rules specific to Allegheny County, is vital to securing a positive legal outcome. This will be a primer on issues that pertain to child custody cases in Allegheny County specifically. 

If you would like an experienced, compassionate attorney to seek the legal outcome you desire, the LLF Law Firm can help. Call the LLF Law Firm Family Law Team today at 888.535.3686 or contact us online about your child custody issues in Allegheny County. 

The Basics of Child Custody in Allegheny County, PA 

Chapter 53 of Pennsylvania's Consolidated Statutes outlines many of the laws and rules related to child custody. The specific issues these statutes address include: 

  • The definition of custody 
  • The various types of child custody 
  • How legal entities define the parameters of child custody 
  • How courts weigh issues related to child custody, such as criminal convictions among guardians 
  • How to modify custody orders 

The LLF Law Firm Family Law Team understands these statutes and has referred to these statutes in securing custody arrangements for many clients.  

Types of Custody You May Seek  

Chapter 53 defines the two primary forms of custody, both of which will likely pertain to your case. These custody types are: 

  • Legal custody: Chapter 53 defines legal custody as "The right to make major decisions on behalf of the child, including, but not limited to, medical, religious and educational decisions." 
  • Physical custody: Physical custody is "The right to assume physical custody of the child for less than a majority of the time." 

Within these categories are sole legal custody, shared legal custody, sole physical custody, and shared physical custody. 

Having both legal and physical custody of a child is important to ensure their well-being. Our team will speak with you about your custody goals and, if you wish, pursue both legal and physical custody of the child in question. 

Specific Types of Child Custody in Pennsylvania 

A court ultimately determines which guardians have which types of custody over a child. Chapter 53 details the various types of custody awards a court can grant, and they include: 

Shared Custody 

When guardians share physical or legal custody of a child in Allegheny County, those guardians are generally expected to collaborate on issues of: 

  • Decisions related to the welfare of the child, such as where they should attend school, what kinds of medical care they should receive, and other topics related to the child's well-being 
  • Where the child will spend their time (including whose residence they sleep at) 

When parties share legal or physical custody, the courts grant them a measure of autonomy to make decisions about the child. This generally indicates that all custodial guardians are of sound mind to make such decisions collaboratively. 

Sole Custody 

Having sole legal or physical custody of a child grants the guardian sole influence over decision-making and the physical well-being of the child. The sole guardian may decide: 

  • Where the child goes to school 
  • Where the child sleeps (and when, if ever, they may spend time with those who do not have physical custody of the child) 
  • What kinds of medical care are appropriate for the child 

Sole custody may be necessary when a prospective guardian has not demonstrated responsibility or sound decision-making, particularly as it relates to the child's well-being. 

Partial Custody 

When a guardian has partial custody, they have some rights over the child's physical or legal status. However, a guardian with partial custody has, by definition, fewer rights than another guardian. 

Supervised Custody 

When a parent has supervised custody of a child, they are entitled to see the child under specified conditions. 

Chapter 53 defines supervised custody as "Custodial time during which an agency or an adult designated by the court or agreed upon by the parties monitors the interaction between the child and the individual with those rights." 

Supervised custody can be a temporary or long-term arrangement, and a guardian may seek to gain non-supervised custodial rights over a child.  

Types of Child Custody Orders You May Seek 

A court grants child custody rights through orders. Some common types of orders that may formally instate the rights you seek include: 

  • An emergency custody order: Rule 1915.4 of the Pennsylvania Code notes that "Nothing in this rule shall preclude a party from seeking, nor a court from ordering, emergency or interim special relief at any time after the commencement of the action." An emergency order is designed to remove a child from an imminently dangerous situation, such as if they are being physically abused or neglected. 
  • A temporary custody order: When a court grants "special relief," it may assign someone temporary custody of a child. Such an order may be necessary if further investigation is required to determine the fitness of a guardian.  
  • A final custody order: Such an order will define custodial rights unless and until there is a legal modification of the order.  

Depending on your circumstances, our team may pursue a combination of these orders. For instance, we may seek an emergency order if you believe a child is in imminent danger. We can then pursue a final order to ensure you have long-term guardianship over the child. 

What Custody Rights Do Grandparents in Allegheny County Have? 

Pennsylvania law asserts that grandparents have a right to seek legal or physical custody of a child when: 

  • When they serve as the de facto parent of the child (perhaps when the biological parent is suffering from addiction, is deceased, has abandoned their parental duties, or is otherwise unfit to serve as guardian) 
  • When the biological parent grants the grandparent guardian status 
  • A child is at direct risk due to the actions of a biological parent (such as in the case of abuse or neglect) 
  • When the grandparent is deemed fit to obtain guardian status 

Our firm regularly helps grandparents gain formal legal rights over children in Pennsylvania, including in Allegheny County.  

What Happens If One Violates a Child Custody Order? 

Chapter 53 explains that those who violate child custody orders may be found in contempt of court. A finding of contempt for noncompliance with a custody order may lead to: 

  • Imprisonment (up to six months) 
  • A fine (up to $500) 
  • Probation (up to six months) 
  • Sanctions on one's license 
  • Conditions that, if fulfilled, may release the individual from legal sanctions 

The court will have discretion over what penalties are appropriate in the case of contempt. 

If someone is in contempt of a custody order, it may affect their ability to retain, regain, or obtain parental rights in the future. If you face an order of contempt, we will defend you and clarify the situation with the court. If someone else is in contempt of a custody order, we will use that fact as necessary when seeking the rights you desire. 

Courts Play a Central Role in Allegheny Co. Custody Decisions 

The Fifth Judicial District of Pennsylvania, which exists in Allegheny County, will likely be part of any custody-related legal matters you pursue. There are two subsets of the Family Division which may be relevant to your case: 

  • Juvenile Section: This section oversees issues of dependency, delinquency, termination of parental rights, and other similar matters. 
  • Adult Section: This section oversees child support, custody, divorce, and similar issues. 

The LLF Law Firm Family Law Team will begin by determining which division of Allegheny County courts has the capacity to install the rights you seek. 

Having an understanding of and familiarity with Allegheny County courts may help when seeking guardianship. Our attorneys know these courts well and will represent you in all dealings with these courts. 

Factors the Court Considers in Allegheny County Custody Disputes 

When seeking the installation or modification of a custody order, the courts should consider: 

  • The relationship between the child and those who will be affected by the court order 
  • The mental fitness of those who are the subject of the order  
  • The current financial circumstances of those involved in the case 
  • The criminal history of anyone who will be affected by the order 
  • The best interests of the child (first and foremost) 

The court must have complete, transparent information when issuing decisions about child custody. The LLF Law Firm Family Law Team will provide a detailed case in your favor so the court can make the appropriate decision. 

Understanding Child Custody Proceedings in Allegheny County, PA 

The Custody Department of the Fifth Judicial District of Pennsylvania will likely oversee your case, which may involve: 

Filing for the Implementation of or Change to a Custody Order 

The court provides several forms which may be necessary to initiate custody proceedings, including: 

  • Complaint in Custody 
  • Remote Client Information Sheet 
  • Criminal Record/Abuse History Verification Form 
  • Self-Represented Litigant Form 

Your attorney will help you complete such forms as necessary. 

Serving Other Parties Involved in the Case 

The court explains that you are responsible for serving any other parties who will be involved in the child custody process. Your child custody lawyer from the LLF Law Firm Team will ensure that service happens as soon as possible. 

Scheduling the Case 

After serving other parties involved in the case (and proving it to the court), the court will contact you about the time and location of your case. Your attorney may arrange for their office to be the contact point for such critical correspondence. 

Completing Mediation 

It may be necessary to undergo the court's two-part alternative dispute resolution process, the Generations Program. The court notes, "All parties are required to participate in the Generations program each time a complaint/petition for custody is filed." 

The Generations Program involves: 

  • Completing an education seminar 
  • Undergoing a mediation session, at which time a neutral third party will seek to have all parties agree to a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) 

An MOU can become a final custody order with assistance from the court. Your attorney will guide you through any necessary mediation process, including but not limited to the Generations Program. 

Appearing Before a Judge 

If dispute resolution does not resolve your case, the next step may be appearing before a judge. A scheduling order will provide all relevant details about when and where a court case will occur. 

Filing Any Necessary Appeals 

If the court does not initially rule in your favor, your attorney will explain your options for corrective measures. This may include filing an appeal and taking further legal measures to secure the rights you seek.  

Can I Modify a Custody Agreement in Allegheny County? 

Yes, you can seek to modify a child custody agreement in Allegheny County. The process of modifying an agreement follows the same course as detailed above, including filing a complaint, serving others involved in the case, undergoing mediation, and appearing before a judge. 

Why Hire a Family Law Attorney in Your Allegheny County Child Custody Case? 

There is too much at stake in an Allegheny County child custody case to go it alone. You may hire an attorney from the LLF Law Firm Family Law Team because: 

  • We know the Allegheny County family law court system well 
  • We understand the procedures for completing child custody cases 
  • We build detailed cases that incorporate all relevant evidence, witness testimony, and expert testimony 
  • We work with urgency (and work long hours) to fight for the best interests of our clients and the children they seek guardianship over 

Our attorneys have extensive experience and passion for child custody cases. 

Call the LLF Law Firm Team Today 

We will evaluate your circumstances, develop a case plan, and file your motion for custody as soon as possible. There is no time to waste when a child's welfare is at stake. 

Call the LLF Law Firm Family Law Team today at 888.535.3686 or contact us online to discuss how we will fight for your rights in Pennsylvania. 

Contact a skilled Family Law Team Today!

The LLF Law Firm has unparalleled experience practicing Family Law in Pennsylvania. If you are having any uncertainties about what the future may hold for you and your family, contact our offices today. Our Family Law Team will go above and beyond the needs for any client and fight for what is fair.

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