Montgomery County, PA Child Custody Attorney
Who Gets Custody of a Child?
A divorce proceeding is always complicated if there are children involved. In Pennsylvania, the laws surrounding custody after a divorce are complex. If you or someone you love has children and is going through a divorce, finding an experienced Montgomery County, PA, divorce lawyer is highly recommended and can save you a lifetime of problems.
The Law Offices of Sheryl R. Rentz, P.C., has years of experience in handling child custody cases. You should always have your lawyer draw up a comprehensive settlement plan before filing your divorce papers, which can include a custody schedule. Our office can handle most every custody issue, whether you are married, unmarried, or have already been divorced. We will take care of all communication with the other party, draw up your demands, and make a professional and considered case before the court on your behalf.
What Are the Different Kinds of Child Custody in Pennsylvania?
The two main types of child custody are legal custody and physical custody. You can file a motion for primary physical custody or shared physical custody (in both the legal and physical categories), and those options have their specific laws as well.
- Legal Custody. With legal custody you have the right to make all of the important decisions in your children’s life. This includes what schools they attend, where they obtain healthcare, where they live, and how they are brought up. In Pennsylvania, joint or shared legal custody is encouraged whenever possible. A judge will grant sole legal custody to one parent only if the other parent:
- Lives a great distance away
- Is abusive or neglectful
- Isn’t significantly involved in the child’s life
- Physical Custody. Physical custody refers to the children’s living arrangements. There are three types:
- Shared Custody. Shared physical custody means the kids have two permanent homes where they split their time. Although this is a “fair” situation, it only works effectively if the parents are able to get along and if they live close enough to where house-switching doesn’t affect the children’s schooling or activities.
- Primary Custody. When the parents share custody, but one of them is the “primary” or “custodial” parent. This parent will have the child more than 50% of the time, and may be responsible for more physical care of the child.
- Sole Custody. If a parent is granted sole physical custody, then that parent provides the children’s permanent home. The non-custodial parent usually has visitation. In these situations, the kids will often live with the custodial parent and see the other parent every other weekend and one weeknight. The non-custodial parent may still share legal custody.
If the children are moved out of state by court order or agreement, then several other state laws regarding custody are taken into consideration. No matter the situation, you should always be represented by a child custody lawyer with plenty of experience in trying similar cases.
Factors the Judge Will Consider to Determine Custody and Visitation Arrangements
The judge will consider many issues when deciding where your children should live and who should make decisions regarding their upbringing, including the following:
- Whether you were legally wed or can establish paternity
- Willingness of parents to cooperate with one another and with the court
- Physical and emotional needs of the children
- Each parent’s financial situation
- Expressed desires of the children (depending on age)
- History of child abuse by one or both parents
- Whether one parent lives in a different state than the other
- Prior custodial arrangements made for siblings
- Parents’ expressed custodial preferences
Decisions regarding visitation can take varying forms, as well. Judges consider similar factors when making these arrangements, such as:
- Willingness and ability to obey terms of visitation agreement
- Parental fitness
- Needs of the children
- Arrangements made for siblings
- Geographic proximity of parents to one another
In the end, the court will make all decisions based on the "best interests" of your children.
Why Is a Custody Order Important?
Obtaining a custody order by a court in Pennsylvania can save you a lifetime of insecurity regarding the upbringing of your children. The only way you can do this is by filing a successful legal pleading in the family court in your home state. In the majority of custody cases, the parent involved is granted physical custody or partial physical custody of the children. In some rare cases, the parents will be denied custody by the state if they are deemed to be unfit.
FAQs About Custody in Pennsylvania
Q: Who Can Seek Custody of a Child in Pennsylvania?
A: There are three different individuals that can petition for custody of a child, depending on the circumstances:
- Parents of the child - The most obvious choice and foremost in the court’s mind.
- Grandparents - In the state of Pennsylvania, grandparents have the right to seek custody provided certain criteria are met to the court’s satisfaction.
- Someone in the position of a parent - Any individual who has assumed the role of a parent for a certain period of time and who the court finds suitable in regards to the particular situation. This is known in legal terminology as in loco parentis.
Q: Does My Sexual Orientation Factor into Custody?
A: No. Under Pennsylvania state law, the court or any other entity cannot use a parent’s sexual orientation as a factor when determining child custody.
Q: Do Courts Favor Mothers Over Fathers in Regards to Custody?
A: Not any longer. In years past, conventional wisdom dictated that a mother would best serve the needs of a child. Over time, this notion has shifted drastically and today courts no longer give mothers preferential treatment. Instead, judges focus on what situation would serve the child best.
Relocations and Modifications to Custody Orders
There are many reasons you might decide you wish to relocate out of the area one day, but if you have a child custody matter, you may be required to get permission from the other parent and/or the court before you can do that. Under Pennsylvania law, if your planned relocation involves taking the children with you somewhere the other parent would not be able to reasonably continue with the ordered custody arrangements, you must provide a Notice of Proposed Relocation at least 60 days prior to the prospective move date. The other parent has 30 days to respond with an objection to the move, and if they should oppose it, the court will schedule a hearing to listen to your motivations for relocating.
A petition can be filed to make other types of modifications to a custody order, which is typically only granted if you can show there has been a substantial change in circumstances. As always, any requested modifications must be in regards to the best interests of the children.
Contempt of Custody Orders
If a parent is found to be disobeying the court’s custody order, they will have to face the consequences enforced by a judge. Acts of contempt can include completely preventing visitation, denying visitation for non-payment of child support, and interfering with communication between the children and the other parent. To have the court order imposed, the parent not in violation will need to file a motion and attend a hearing to show the judge (with evidence) how the other parent has been non-compliant.
Guardianship and Grandparents’ Rights
In situations where neither parent is deemed fit to care for their children or is unable to for any reason, the court will consider guardianship or grandparents’ custodial rights. For considerations of guardianship, a parent may suggest a guardian to the court, which is likely to impact their final decision. If grandparents are willing and able to care for the children, they can petition for legal and physical custody provided they have a close relationship with their grandchildren and the children have lived with them for at least 12 months.
Helping Keep Families Together
Regardless of your situation, the Law Offices of Sheryl R. Rentz, P.C., can help. Contact our office for a free and confidential consultation. Only by learning what your specific rights are and what laws surround child custody in Pennsylvania can you begin to move forward with your legal claim in family court. Contact us at (866) 290-9292 today.
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