Child custody cases are among the most challenging types of family law cases we handle, and certainly the most contentious. It is generally best for all involved if the parents agree on an appropriate custody schedule considering the particular needs of the children. In fact, most courts have designed their custody procedures in a way to encourage settlement and avoid a trial.
But when parents are unable to reach an agreement, how do the courts make a determination of custody? First of all, there are two main types of custody, legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody is the right to make decisions on behalf of the child, such as, what medical provider should the child go to, or which school district the child will attend. Although it is not universal, most judges have a preference for the parents to share legal custody and to communicate with each other and reach agreement on these major issues. Often parents are asked by the court to engage in co-parenting counseling when they have trouble agreeing on these major decisions.
Physical custody is the amount of actual time the child spends with each party; if one party has “primary” physical custody, that is the person the child spends a majority of the time with, and the party with “partial” physical custody has physical custody for less than the majority of the time. “Shared” physical custody means that the child spends more nearly equal (but not necessarily 50%) time with both parties.
PA law requires that courts making legal and physical custody decisions must consider many different factors to determine what custody arrangement is in the best interests of children. In 2011, a comprehensive new custody law went into effect, which provides a list of 16 best interest factors that the court must consider. The factors include the child’s need for stability and continuity, which parent is most likely to attend the daily needs of the child, and which parent is more likely to foster contact with the other parent.
The 2011 custody law made major changes to prior law regarding situations where a parent wants to relocate with a child. Relocation occurs where a party wants to move so far away that it could substantially impact the non-relocating party’s ability to exercise their custody rights, even if the non-relocating party only has partial custody. So when does a potential move arise to the level of “relocation?” It is clearly relocation when a party wants to move from Pennsylvania to the state of Texas, but what about when a parent wants to move across town? There are many factors that must be taken into consideration when determining whether a move qualifies as relocation, thus it is imperative for the relocating parent to seek legal advice PRIOR to moving.
If you want to relocate with your child, there are specific steps and specific time frames which must be followed, whether you have an existing custody order or not. If you relocate without following the required steps under the law, there could be serious legal ramifications. If you are the parent who is resisting the plans of the other party to relocate with the child, you have important rights which must be exercised promptly.
Grandparent custody rights
Not all grandparents are entitled to request custody time with their grandchildren, but there are specific situations in which they are entitled to seek custody or custody time. Whether you are the grandparent looking to legally establish your right to see your grandchild, or a parent who wants to stop a grandparent from intervening, we can explain your rights and help you through the process.
We understand that child custody is highly emotional and difficult for parents to deal with and understand, but we are here to help guide you through this process. We have extensive experience in custody litigation, from amicably working out custody agreements to litigating custody through trial.