It is a transformative year for child custody courts and legislation in Pennsylvania. Proceedings, as we know them now, may be completely different come the new year if the bills proposed this year are passed.
HB 1397 is among one of several bills that have the potential to drastically affect the outcomes of state child custody cases, as it seeks to amend several sections of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes. The most significant of those changes include beginning proceedings with the presumption that joint physical custody would be in the best of the child rather than “primary” and “partial” physical custody. Joint physical custody essentially dictates that children are to divide the time spent with their parents equally - 50% of their time is spent with one parent and the remaining 50% of time is spent with the other parent.
The idea of implementing a 50/50 custody presumption in proceedings isn't a new concept, and the arguments for and against the bill aren't either. Advocates for HB 1397 claim that the change is beneficial because it ensures that both parents are involved in the children's lives unless there's a clear reason to allocating parenting time otherwise. This line of reasoning also enforces that parental alienation won't be a consequence of child custody agreements. Generally, advocates tend to be fathers' rights groups and their supporters who perceive the legal framework surrounding child custody as female-centered, in terms of legislation and favor in court. They conclude that this bill is a major step in reducing the discretion given to judges in court and in imposing a presumption rebutted only be clear and convincing evidence.
Groups who oppose the bill argue that there isn't an issue of gender equality in custody litigation and that serious issues like domestic violence, neglect, and other forms of abuse may be overlooked if HB 1397 is enacted into law. Naysayers also emphasize that the problems the bill seeks to address aren't actual issues. They claim that parental alienation and its aftereffects, particularly child support, doesn't appear to be a major problem in Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services' website boasts that the state is “the only state in the nation to meet or exceed all five performance standards that the federal government sets in determining the effectiveness of state child support enforcement programs.”
It's a known fact that children fare better when both parents are actively involved in their lives, but does this mean there should be a 50/50 custody schedule put in place for all children of separating or divorced parents? Not necessarily. Of course, the involvement of both parents is a priority, but not all cases or even most cases should be subject to a uniform parenting arrangement. A one-size-fits-all approach to child custody proceedings could be ineffective and doesn't truly reflect the best interest of each child in all circumstances, as each situation is different.
Regardless, if HB 1397 is passed, one thing is for sure: the landscape of Pennsylvania child custody cases will be changed forever. Whether this change will benefit you and your children is up for debate.
Pennsylvania Child Custody Attorney
If you're involved in a child custody proceeding, it's important you retain legal counsel from an attorney who knows their stuff. Joseph D. Lento has helped parents from across the state score an agreement that includes their contributions, protects their parental rights, and most importantly, reflects the best interest of the child. For more information about Mr. Lento's representation, contact the Lento Law Firm today online or by phone at 888-535-3686.