Post-Divorce Custody Agreements

When you have gone through a divorce, one of the most emotionally charged and important aspects is determining custody of a child. After a divorce, you may not know what the future holds for you, or your child. Determining custody can be difficult. In a perfect world, taking custody would be a simple process where both parties agree; however, life is not always so simple. Things like moving, different job opportunities, and the unpredictable journey of life altogether can be the source of complication to what your initial custody agreement was. When this happens, you will only want what is best for your family.

Typically, custody is worked out in the terms of the divorce before it can even be finalized. Most often, in order to get the court to decree a divorce, the plans regarding custody of the children must be ready to go. Once the entirety of the divorce is settled, custody will already be set up for what works best for the parents, and what is best for the children at that moment in time. However, with the passage of time, what worked for the parents and children at first may no longer work out as well. Sometimes, the initial custody agreement will not work at all as situations arise. Sometimes, certain circumstances arise where custody must be amended to better fit the needs of both the child and the parents. These circumstances can vary heavily, and no two cases will look the same, however, there are several common reasons why a post-divorce custody modification may be necessary.


Once custody has been settled from a divorce, typically both former spouses will normally wish to separate themselves from one another. While separated or divorced spouses are able to move away from one another, Pennsylvania law imposes certain restrictions on what can and cannot take place during this period of time. However, at times, one of the parties may wish to relocate further way from where the initial terms of the divorce were settled. This can have a severe impact on both you and your child. When this situation arises, you will typically need to work out a new custody arrangement. This can happen several years after the divorce, or shortly after the divorce; every family's circumstances are different. This being the case, Pennsylvania law does not permit one parent to unilaterally decide to move very far away from another when both parents share custody of a child. To do so would amount to one parent unilaterally forcing an entirely new custody arrangement with completely different terms on the other parent; in violation of the custody agreement that had been approved. If one of the custodial parties wishes to relocate to a distance very far away from the other party, the other party must approve and consent. This may mean that one party will take sole custody after the relocation, or a very limited joint custody may take place, if the court allows the party to proceed with the relocation.

Changes To A Parent's Financial Situation

Sometimes, due to a change in circumstance, a parent may not be able to handle primary custody and may need to greater emphasize the role of the other parent handling custody. While this most often means a change to any ongoing child support agreements, sometimes a change in child custody is also necessary. While Pennsylvania law does not normally take a parent's financial situation or income into account when drafting a custody agreement, they will make decisions based upon stability to the home. Losing a job, or undergoing a situation that drastically affects one parent's ability to keep a stable income will more than likely affect support agreements, and can even reach into the custody agreement, in the extreme.

A Parent Faces Criminal Charges

While this is a truly unfortunate situation, at times a custody agreement may need to be redrafted due to a custodial parent facing criminal charges. This may land the primary custody parent with sole custody of the child. The court will consider what is best, and while criminal charges do not automatically deem unfitness for a parent to have custody, they will need to seriously consider having an attorney for both their criminal charges, and their Family Law needs. Oftentimes, criminal charges for either parent may immediately mandate at least a review of the custody agreement to be certain that the child will not suffer harm of any form from being in contact with the parent facing charges.

Modifying A Custody Agreement After a Divorce

When you need to modify a custody agreement, you will want the help of an attorney, especially if the custody modification is occurring after a divorce. Divorce proceedings can be messy, and leftover feelings and grudges can make their way into a custody battle, even one years down the line. Typically, custody agreement modifications can be managed outside of the courtroom, however, enlisting the help of an attorney can better protect your interests, both in and out of the courtroom. Once a custody agreement reaches a point where neither party is willing to agree, you will need to attend court. Court procedures for custody vary depending on the county you are in. Most counties typically have an evidence and fact-based procedure for amending the custody agreement, where a large number of factors will be considered. They will consider the initial agreement, both parents' current situations, and if applicable, they may even take into consideration the child's preferences. The ultimate deciding factor will be what the court deems is in the best interest of the child, based upon the facts and evidence presented at the hearing.

If you or a loved one is involved with matters of Family Law, contact our Family Law Team today.

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