Child Custody in Washington County

Child custody issues are some of the most serious cases brought to court. This is because the impacts of custody cases have the potential to irrevocably alter the well-being and life of a child. While separation, divorce, alcohol or substance abuse issues, or any other matter affecting custody is difficult on all the adults involved, it is often hardest on the children caught in the crosshairs. At the LLF Law Firm, our Family Law Team knows you just want the best for your child. If you believe what is best for that child is to be in your custody, our Family Law Team is here to help. The LLF Law Firm protects the rights of Washington County residents seeking child custody. When child custody battles get tough, our Family Law Team will always fight for you and your child. Call us today at 888.535.3686 or contact us online today.

What Is the Child Custody Law in Washington County?

Washington County follows Pennsylvania law regarding child custody. While different Washington County-specific forms may be required to be filed with the Washington County Court, Pennsylvania law prescribes the types of custody to be awarded, factors to consider, and several other child custody topics. When Pennsylvania law is discussed in the sections below, it will be referencing the law at the link above.

Where Are Child Custody Cases Heard in Washington County?

The Washington County Courts Family Court Division, Divorce and Custody Division handles all cases related to child custody in Washington County, Pennsylvania. The Family Court Division handles all complaints and other paperwork related to child custody and other family law matters, including divorce, domestic violence, and juvenile probation.

What Are the Different Types of Child Custody?

There are two types of custody: physical and legal. The seven variations of these types of custody are discussed a bit more below. Physical custody is just what it sounds like; it is who physically has the child in their care on a day-to-day basis. The party with physical custody is responsible for providing the child with food, housing, clothing, and other necessary items. This party must also ensure their child attends school and medical appointments and has transportation for the above and other activities.

Legal custody relates to decision-making. When you have legal or shared legal custody, you have a say or complete decision-making power. These are the major decisions in the child's life, not the minor things like what they eat or wear. Decisions under legal custody are related to the child's care, education, and upbringing. These decisions include where the child will go to school, where or whether they will practice religion, and what type of medical care they will receive.

When making a custody order, the judge may choose from the following custody options:

  • Shared physical custody: The right of more than one party to assume physical custody of the child, each having significant periods of physical custodial time with the child.
  • Primary physical custody: The right of one party to assume physical custody of the child for the majority of the time
  • Partial physical custody: The right of a party to assume physical custody of the child for less than a majority of the time.
  • Sole physical custody: The right of one party to exclusive physical custody of the child.
  • Supervised physical custody: Custodial time is when an agency or an adult designated by the court or agreed upon by the parties monitors the interaction between the child and the party with those rights.
  • Shared legal custody: The right of more than one party to legal custody of the child.
  • Sole legal custody: The right of one party to exclusive legal custody of the child.

What Are the Requirements and Who Can File for Child Custody in Washington County?

Typically, a child must reside in Washington County for at least six months before the Family Court will hear a custody case about that child. There are, of course, exceptions for children under the age of six months and in emergencies, including those involving abuse, neglect, or abandonment.

A few different people can file for physical custody of a child in Pennsylvania. Any biological parent or adopted parent of a child may file for custody so long as their parental rights have not been terminated through a legal proceeding.

Aside from parents, a few other people may file for custody, including any person considered in loco parentis. This Latin term simply refers to any person who is not a biological or adoptive parent of a child, but this person has cared for the child for a substantial period of time. Essentially, this person has acted in a parental role in the physical and emotional care of the child and when the child's own parent has given up their parental duties to this person. Proving you are acting in loco parentis to gain custody of a child can be difficult. Still, your LLF Law Firm attorney will discuss what loco parentis looks like in practice and the success rates for custody being granted on this basis in Washington County.

Grandparents and even great-grandparents may also file for full or partial physical or legal custody in some situations. One situation in which a grandparent may file for custody is if the child's parent or parents are deceased. The grandparent may also file for custody if either the parent of the child consents to or there is a court order where the parent has started a custody proceeding and there is no agreement as to whether the grandparents should have custody. Lastly, grandparents may file for custody if the child was living with them for at least 12 consecutive months, with only brief temporary absences of the child from the home, and the child has since been removed from the home by their parent. In this case, grandparents must file for custody within six months of the child being removed from their home.

What Factors Does a Judge Consider in Child Custody Cases in Washington County?

Judges are legally required to assess many factors before making a child custody determination. Assessing these factors allows the judge to decide what is in the child's best interest, which is the standard for awarding custody. The factors the judge must take into consideration under Pennsylvania law (cited above) 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 a party's household, whether there is a continued risk of harm to the child or any abused party, and which party can better provide adequate physical safeguards and supervision of the child.
  • The parental duties are 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 is based on the child's maturity and judgment.
  • The attempt of a parent to turn the child against the other parent, except in cases of domestic violence.
  • Which party is more likely to maintain a loving, stable, consistent, and nurturing relationship with the child to meet the child's emotional needs.
  • Which party is more likely to attend to the child's daily physical, emotional, developmental, educational, and special needs.
  • The proximity of the residences of the parties.
  • Each party's availability to care for the child or the 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.
  • 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 factors the judge deems are necessary to review.

Judges should not be considering the parties' relative incomes; this means the judge shouldn't be considering which party makes more money or how much more money in their decision. So long as a party can provide for the child's basic needs, food, clothing, and warm and clean housing, income cannot be factored into their decision. While for many years, mothers received preference in child custody, this is no longer the case. The judge may not consider the gender of the parent in determining custody.

What is the Procedure Used to Resolve Child Custody Cases in Washington County?

Child custody cases will generally begin with filing a Complaint for Custody in the Washington County Family Court Division. If a child is in immediate danger, meaning their health, safety, or welfare is being threatened, a Petition for Emergency Relief may be required. Your LLF Law Firm attorney can tell you if a situation your belief is urgent meets the requirements for a Petition for Emergency Relief. Our Family Law Team will explain the Complaint for Custody and prepare this document to best support your proposal for child custody.

A Family Court Division representative will contact the parties involved to collect information and schedule a conference. The purpose of the conference is to attempt to find a resolution without the assistance of a judge. Having your LLF Law Firm attorney present is crucial to this process. Your attorney will fiercely fight for the custody you want. Our Family Law Team is experienced in this type of negotiation. Our clients frequently obtain results they feel comfortable with without facing the stress and conflict of a court proceeding.

If the parties cannot agree, the matter will be referred to a family law judge. The judge may order mediation before hearing the case. This is a second round of negotiations. Sometimes, parties are more willing to compromise when encouraged by a judge. If this negotiation is not successful, the judge will hear the case. Both parties can present evidence, witnesses, and relevant information to bolster their argument for custody. Once proceedings have concluded, the judge will issue a custody order.

What if I Want to Change the Terms of a Washington County Child Custody Order?

Either party may petition the court to modify a custody order, even if the order is called a "final order." There can be restrictions on the time frame or waiting periods for filing a petition with the court. This petition is called a Petition for Modification of Custody. The petition requires an explanation as to why the party is requesting the changes and how it will serve the child's best interest. The court may deny the petition if no circumstances have changed since the last custody order.

What Happens if A Party Violates the Washington County Child Custody Order?

Violating a Washington County custody order is a serious deal. Once a judge has made a custody order, your custody issues are no longer only a family matter. A custody order is an official court order, and a violation can have severe legal consequences. When someone violates or is accused of violating a custody order, the other party will likely file a Petition for Contempt with the Family Court. A violation is considered contempt of court and can result in fines and even imprisonment.

How the LLF Law Firm Can Help You with Custody Issues in Washington County

When you are facing a child custody issue in Washington County, no other law firm will fight harder for you and your child than the LLF Law Firm. Our Family Law Team is well-versed in child custody law issues in Washington County; we will handle your case from start to finish, beginning with collecting all relevant information and fighting for modifications. Our Family Law Team has years of experience representing clients in custody order enforcement matters. Whether your opposing party has violated the order or you have been accused of violating your custody order, we can help. Call the LLF Law Firm Family Law Team at 888.535.3686 or contact us online to get started today.

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.

This website was created only for general information purposes. It is not intended to be construed as legal advice for any situation. Only a direct consultation with a licensed Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York attorney can provide you with formal legal counsel based on the unique details surrounding your situation. The pages on this website may contain links and contact information for third party organizations - the Lento Law Firm does not necessarily endorse these organizations nor the materials contained on their website. In Pennsylvania, Attorney Joseph D. Lento represents clients throughout Pennsylvania's 67 counties, including, but not limited to Philadelphia, Allegheny, Berks, Bucks, Carbon, Chester, Dauphin, Delaware, Lancaster, Lehigh, Monroe, Montgomery, Northampton, Schuylkill, and York County. In New Jersey, attorney Joseph D. Lento represents clients throughout New Jersey's 21 counties: Atlantic, Bergen, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Essex, Gloucester, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Ocean, Passaic, Salem, Somerset, Sussex, Union, and Warren County, In New York, Attorney Joseph D. Lento represents clients throughout New York's 62 counties. Outside of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, unless attorney Joseph D. Lento is admitted pro hac vice if needed, his assistance may not constitute legal advice or the practice of law. The decision to hire an attorney in Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania counties, New Jersey, New York, or nationwide should not be made solely on the strength of an advertisement. We invite you to contact the Lento Law Firm directly to inquire about our specific qualifications and experience. Communicating with the Lento Law Firm by email, phone, or fax does not create an attorney-client relationship. The Lento Law Firm will serve as your official legal counsel upon a formal agreement from both parties. Any information sent to the Lento Law Firm before an attorney-client relationship is made is done on a non-confidential basis.