Montgomery County, PA Visitation Lawyer
Issues Concerning Child Custody and Visitation Rights
Child visitation rights following a divorce in Pennsylvania are legally complicated. “Visitation rights” refer to the set of laws surrounding the legal right of a parent or other family member to visit and spend time with a child after a divorce. Even if a parent or guardian is not granted some type of custody, in many cases visitation rights are granted. Even this seemingly minor area of the law is fraught with complexity, however.
Child custody and visitation are often contentious issues. We know you want your children’s needs met while making them feel secure during a difficult transition. The Law Offices of Sheryl R. Rentz, P.C., is dedicated to aggressively pursuing visitation rights and other family matters. We give free and confidential advice regarding any divorce, custody, or visitation rights questions you might have. We are a licensed legal office with years of experience. Contact us at (866) 290-9292 for a free consultation.
How Is Custody Determined in Pennsylvania Court?
In determining child custody issues following a divorce, a family court judge will have to make several decisions, each one based on what serves the best interests of all children involved. The court will try to make the situation as amicable as possible, but in many cases is forced to favor one parent over another, or decide that both parents are unfit for custody. Some factors the judge will consider include:
- 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
What Are Custody Arrangements in Pennsylvania?
All kinds of issues come into play when deciding the custodial and visitation rights of parents. Both physical and legal custody can be arranged as follows:
- Temporary Custody: The arrangement is short-term only.
- Sole Custody: Children reside with one parent who makes decisions about their upbringing.
- Split Custody: Each parent has full physical custody of one or more children in a multi-child home. For example, a pair of siblings is split up so that one lives with one parent and the other lives with the other parent.
- Joint Custody: Custody is shared between both parents. This is Pennsylvania’s preferred ruling in custody decisions. Joint custody has three categories of its own:
- Joint legal custody: A child has one residence, and parents share decision-making.
- Shared physical custody: A child has two residences, and parents share decision-making.
- Combination of both
What Factors Are Considered in Visitation Rights in Montgomery County?
If you are a relative of the children in question, you may be able to file for visitation rights. A judge will hear a request for visitation submitted by a relative if that request seems to be in the best interest of the child. The judge will consider the relative’s closeness to the child, the history of their relationship, the relative’s relationship with the child’s parents or guardians, and other factors. If you are the relative of a child involved in a divorce and want to ensure that you have the legal right to visit, contact our law firm immediately.
Often, parents may need help looking after and raising their children, and will request aid from extended family members like the child’s siblings, grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, and stepparents. These individuals can form a natural, familial bond with the child and can fear having that connection disrupted when the parent reassumes their full role. This can be especially distressing for stepparents that have formed a strong connection with their spouse’s child and are going through a divorce.
If you played an important role in a child’s life because his or her biological parents were unable to for any reason, you can seek third-party visitation rights. Third-party visitation rights allow you to have designated time with the child through a court order. Those who can be rewarded third-party visitation in Pennsylvania are:
- Aunts, uncles, cousins, or other close blood relatives
Before petitioning the court for visitation with the child, remember that for a judge to grant visitation, you must prove that it will be in the best interests of the child, and that the child will be heavily impacted by not having you in his or her life on a consistent basis. We recommend speaking to a skilled Montgomery County visitation attorney about kind of evidence you need to show the court.
Visitation for Stepparents
When you marry someone with children, you assume the role of parent to some degree. The responsibilities may be smaller depending on how big a role the other parent plays in the child’s life. Although socially, a stepparent acts as a parent, the law doesn’t view it that way. In the eyes of the law, marrying a person with a child only makes you legally bound and obligated to the person you married - not the children. You have no legal rights to make decisions on the child’s behalf, and in the event of a divorce, you will not be obligated to pay child support. Also, the biological parent isn’t obligated to allow the continuation of the relationship between you and the child if he/she doesn’t want to.
If you still wish to be a part of the child’s life and feel separation could be detrimental to their development, you may seek third-party visitation rights. When determining third-party visitation rights, the judge will take a close look at the answers to these questions before making a final order granting or denying visitation to the stepparent:
- How close are the stepparent and child, emotionally?
- Does the stepparent have any children of his/her own, who are close with the child?
- How much will the child suffer if visitation rights aren't granted to the stepparent?
- How involved is the stepparent in the child's day-to-day life?
- How long has the stepparent filled the role of parent to this child?
- How much financial support has the stepparent provided to the child?
- What are the biological parents’ feelings about the relationship between stepparent and child?
The best way to ensure that you will continue to be in the child’s life no matter the outcome of your marriage is through stepparent adoption. If you adopt your spouse’s child during your marriage then you will have the same legal rights to the child as the biological parent. Keep in mind that one of the biological parents would have to give up rights in order for you to adopt the child. If both biological parents are active in the child’s life, a second option would be to establish loco parentis, which means "in the position of the parent." If you can prove that you were active in the child’s life and your sudden absence would heavily impact the child, you would be allowed to seek visitation under that claim.
Visitation for Grandparents
Grandparents cannot seek visitation if the parents are alive, living together, and the child never lived with the grandparents. However, grandparents can seek visitation if:
- The child’s parents died, divorced, or have been separated for at least six months.
- The child lived with grandparent for a year or more and then was removed by the child’s parent.
In both situations, the courts will always do what’s best for the child. Always remember that visitation is temporary and it can be changed at any time to fit the needs of the child or biological parents.
Supervised visitation allows the child to visit the non-custodial parent under the supervision of the custodial parent, approved family member, or court-appointed person. This happen when one parent feels that the other parent poses a threat to the child. Typically, there will be a history of domestic abuse, drugs, alcohol abuse, or abandonment. There are also centers where the child can be taken during these visits to ensure safety at all times.
If one parent decides to move away, it will affect the time that the non-custodial parent gets to spend with the children. A way to supplement that is to implement virtual visitation time. This would give the non-custodial parent set times to bond with the children via email, Skype, and FaceTime. This has become a popular custody agreement for military parents as well.
Clarifying Complex Legal Concepts for Clients
Visitation rights are some of the most complicated laws in Pennsylvania. When issues of concern arise, you always want to have the strength of the law on your side. By having a family court decide on a visitation schedule for your child or relative, you can get the peace of mind that comes with knowing your rights are protected.
If you or someone you love is involved in a divorce, contact the Law Offices of Sheryl R. Rentz, P.C., at (866) 290-9292 for a free, no-obligation consultation. Our office has years of experience handling family court issues in Montgomery County. In order to ensure some safety, legal rights, protection, or visitation benefits for all children involved in a divorce, contact our offices immediately. We can help you file the necessary paperwork and also take care of all communication between involved parties.
- Understanding Pennsylvania Child Visitation
- Understanding Pennsylvania Grandparent Visitation Rights
- How Can Non-Biological Parents Gain Custody of Their Children?
- Why Would a Parent Have Temporary Custody in PA?
- Is Joint Custody Consideration the Best Starting Point in Divorce Cases?