According to the most recent Delaware County Judicial Report, the General Trial Division of Family Law handled more than 5,000 child custody complaints over the last three years. They also handle cases involving divorce, equitable distribution, child support, and more. This year, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has implemented a new standard of mediation that uses “parenting coordinators” to help resolve child custody disputes.
The Best Interests of the Child
Courts are responsible for doing what they believe is in the best interests of the child. Pennsylvania statute lists 16 different factors that may be considered in these decisions; however, the courts are encouraged to use their discretion. The overall safety of the child is a primary factor and any evidence suggesting prior abuse is taken seriously. The court tends to favor parties that demonstrate a willingness to support regular contact between the child and both parents or guardians, siblings, and other members of the family.
Some of the key factors considered include:
- The ability of the parties to effectively perform their parental responsibilities
- Stability of the environment as it relates to family, community, and education
- Child-care related concerns
- Where the child's siblings reside (when applicable)
- Any evidence of past or current problems with drugs, alcohol or mental health concerns
- The ability to address the child's overall well-being, such as emotional and physical health
Eligibility for Custody
The court may consider awarding child custody to parents, grandparents or others currently responsible for the child temporarily. Other individuals that have an existing relationship with the child may be considered with parental consent. Those who have provided a home to the child for 12 months are given preference.
The court may initiate a custody change when they feel the child's safety is at risk. The court will determine if “clear and convincing evidence” suggests that the party is willing to accept the responsibility and demonstrates a sincere interest in the child's well-being.
What Are Parenting Plans?
In custody actions, the court may require that a written parenting plan be created and agreed upon. This may contain a schedule that specifies parenting time and any living arrangements during the holiday, vacations, etc. It may assign responsibility for childcare, transportation, medical care, and others. Creating a parenting plan often requires negotiation that may be aided by a mediator or arbitrator.
A primary goal of the court is that the child has regular contact with both parents. Often, a custodial parent will seek to relocate to another city, state, etc. The court will generally require that all parties that have some custody rights are notified in advance and that they consent to the relocation. A reasonable period of advance notice is generally 60 days. These actions generally require that the provisions of any parenting plan be revised.
A party can file a formal objection to relocation with the court. In these situations, the court will host a hearing and may have the parties participate in mediation or other means of reaching an amicable solution.
Experienced Attorney for Child Custody Cases
Legal matters that involve your family may create uncertainty and emotional distress. When you will be a party to court cases such as those involving child custody it is important to have assistance from a lawyer that is well-versed in this area of practice. For a complimentary consultation, contact the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-3686.