Absent a Court Order, each of the biological parents to a child has a right to have the children in their custody. What that means is that if there is no custody Order in place, either of the parties can withhold the child from the other party and not allow the other party to see the child. The police will usually not get involved in these situations because it is not kidnapping to withhold the child from the other party. Obtaining a custody Order from the Court is the only way to protect your rights to your child.
Custody Orders typically address two main areas – legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody embodies the concept of who gets to make decisions regarding the child, such as where the child is going to go to school, which doctor or dentist is going to provide treatment for the child, what extra-curricular activities the child is going to be involved with, and which church the child is going to attend. It also addresses the right of each parent to know about the children’s medical treatment and being appraised of parent- teacher conferences and other events at the child’s school. Legal custody is often shared between the parents.
Physical custody is what most people think about regarding custody and that is which party is the child going to live with and when. Unless there is an instance where one of the parties poses a risk of harm to the child, it is likely that the Court will issue an Order that tried to provide both parties with time to spend with the child. Every Courthouse handles custody cases a little bit differently, but usually the Courthouse will have an initial conference to see if the parties can reach their own agreement as to what the custody arrangement should be. If the parties can reach an agreement at the initial conference, the agreement is written down and signed by a Judge and becomes an official Order. If the parties cannot reach an agreement then a hearing before a Judge is scheduled where each party can present their witnesses and evidence and testimony to convince the Judge that an Order should be issued that grants them the periods of custody that they are requesting. At a custody hearing, the Judge will consider things in making a decision regarding the appropriate custody arrangements including:
- Who has been the primary caretaker for the child/children since the child’s birth?
- Who is able to provide the child with a stable home life? Has one of the parties moved a lot?
- Where has the child been living? Does moving with one of the parties mean that the child/children have to change schools?
- Has one of the parents been abusive toward the child/children or has the child/children witnessed a parent engaging in abusive behavior?
- Has either of the parties suffered from a drug or alcohol addiction?
- Has either of the parents been charged with or convicted of certain criminal offenses?
- What is the child/children’s relationship like with each of the parents?
- Are there other individuals living with the parent and whether this individual poses a risk of harm to the children?
- Are there siblings or half-siblings that live with each parent that the child/children with whom the children have a relationship.
- Are there other relatives who live close to each of the parents and what the child/children’s relationship is like with the other parent.
- The well-reasoned preference of the child, given the child’s age and maturity level.
- What is each parent’s work schedule?
- What days and times are the activities that the parents are involved with (such as bowling league or)?
- When are the child/children’s activities that they are involved in and who typically transports the children to their activities?
- What are the babysitting or daycare arrangements for the child/children when the custodial parent is unavailable?
After consideration of the above factors or any other issues that the Judge believes to be in the child/children’s best interest, the Judge will make a decision on what the appropriate custodial arrangement should be. Failure to properly present the evidence and testimony at a custody hearing could result in the Judge not considering all of the factors that could be in your favor. The attorneys at Coover & Associates, P.C. have experience with the Pennsylvania Rules of Evidence and with the various local practices of all of the Courts in the south-central Pennsylvania area. Please contact our office at (717) 761-1274 or 1(866)-596-9384 to set up a low-cost initial consultation to discuss your custody matter with an experienced family law attorney.
Modification of Custody
It is not unusual for a parent to become unsatisfied with a custody Order because their work hours or other situation has changed. Or the non-custodial parent believes that there have been changes in their situation or the custodial parent’s household that would justify the Court making a change in the custodial arrangements. Custody Orders can be modified at any time until the child reaches eighteen. An attorney at Coover & Associates, P.C. can assist you with obtaining a modification of your current custody order. Please contact our office at (717) 761-1274 or 1(866)-596-9384 to set up a low-cost initial consultation to discuss your changes to your current custody order with an experienced family law attorney.
Contempt of Custody
Pennsylvania law grants Judges the power to find parties in contempt for failing to abide by a custody order. A party can be found to be in contempt of an Order for the following:
- Failing to allow the non-custodial parent the right to participate in making decisions regarding the child/children’s medical treatment, educational decisions or religious practices;
- Failing to notify the non-custodial parent of the child/children’s medical treatment or school events or not providing the other parent with a copy of the child’s report card;
- Not providing the other party with the name and contact information regarding any babysitters or daycare provider that provide care for the child during that parties’ period of custody;
- Withholding the child from the other parent during that parent’s periods of custody as stated in the custody Order;
- Failing to follow specific provisions on the custody order, such as not consuming alcohol during their period of custody.
If a Court finds an individual to be in contempt, the Court has the authority to impose the following punishment on the offending parent:
- A period of incarceration of up to six months;
- A fine of $500.00 to be paid to the innocent spouse;
- A probationary period of up to six months;
- Payment of the innocent spouse’s attorney fees and costs.
Each courthouse in south-central Pennsylvania has different contempt procedures. The attorneys at Coover & Associates, P.C. are experienced at handling contempt cases and can assist you with obtaining a contempt order against the other parent if they refuse to comply with the terms of their current Order. Please contact our office at (717) 761-1274 or 866)-596-9384 to set up a low-cost initial consultation to discuss your changes to your current custody order with an experienced family law attorney.
In 2011, the Pennsylvania legislature enacted a law that requires a parent who is moving to provide notice to the non-moving parent if their move is going to have any impact on their current custodial arrangements. The law provides a specific procedure as to how the notification needs to be given and what needs to be included in the notice. The law is relatively new and each courthouse interprets and applies the relocation statute differently. Some courthouses are very strict and will transfer custody of the child to the other spouse if the moving parent does not provide the relocation notice in the manner required by the statute. Some Judges have imposed a duty on parents to comply with the statute, even if they have never obtained a custody Order or ever been represented by an attorney who could explain the relocation statute to them.
The attorneys at Coover & Associates, P.C. are experienced with the relocation statute and how it is handled by all of the courthouses in south-central Pennsylvania. Please contact our office at (717) 761-1274 or 1(866)-596-9384 to set up a low-cost initial consultation to discuss your changes to your current custody order with an experienced family law attorney.
Custody actions can typically only be filed by the biological parents of the child, however, there are some exceptions which give other individuals the right to file custody actions. For a grandparent (or other third party) to file for primary custody of a minor child/children, the filing individual must be able to provide the following:
- The filing party’s relationship began with the consent of the parent or by Court Order; and
- The filing party is willing to accept responsibility for the child; and
- One of the following:
- The child has been determined to be a dependent child through a Children and Youth proceeding;
- The child/children is substantially at risk due to parental abuse, neglect, drug or alcohol abuse or due to the parent(s) incapacity;
- For a period of at least twelve (12) consecutive months the child/children resided with the filing party. An action under this provision needs to be filed within six months of the child/children’s removal from the home.
Custody actions can also be filed by grandparents or great-grandparents who are seeking periods of visitation with the child. The situations in which grandparents or great-grandparents can file for visitation are the following:
- If the grandparent’s child who is the parent of the child is deceased;
- When the parents of the child have been separated for over six months (this includes parents to the child who were in a relationship but were not married);
- Or when the child/children lived with the filing grandparent or great-grandparent for a period of at least twelve (12) consecutive months. An action under this provision needs to be filed within six months of the child/children’s removal from the home.
The attorneys at Coover & Associates, P.C. have assisted numerous grandparents and great-grandparents in obtaining custody or visitation of their grandchildren. Please contact our office at (717) 761-1274 or 1(866)-596-9384 to set up a low-cost initial consultation to discuss your changes to your current custody order with an experienced family law attorney.
Emergency Custody Orders
Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 1915.13 provides that an Emergency Custody Petition can be filed with the Court if the child/children are at risk of harm. This provision includes when a parent who has drug or alcohol issues or who has a history of mental health issues wrongfully withholds the child from the other parent. Every courthouse in south-central Pennsylvania has a different procedure to have emergency custody petitions filed with their courts. A Judge who receives an emergency custody petition has the authority to:
- Grant the petition immediately and issue an Order that custody of the child/children be transferred to the filing party until further proceedings can be held;
- Schedule a hearing in which both parents can come before the Court and explain their concerns regarding the custody of the child; or
- Deny the petition and schedule the issues to be addressed at a conciliation conference to be held between the parties.
The attorneys at Coover & Associates, P.C. experience in filing emergency custody petitions and representing individuals in emergency custody hearings. Please contact our office at (717) 761-1274 or 1(866)-596-9384 to set up a low-cost initial consultation to discuss your changes to your current custody order with an experienced family law attorney.