Custody 2018-03-15T18:10:02+00:00

Navigating the Custody Process

It is important to secure legal representation as soon as possible. You can go to the Centre County Bar Association website to search for attorneys that practice family law.

Additionally, be cautious with agencies. Even if well intentioned, there may be underlying bias or presumptions on the part of social workers that could influence decision making. Be aware that any changes in parental responsibilities may set a precedent that will impact impact future decision making, sometimes to your detriment.

Make sure you know what you want and carefully consider the future before making any commitments or agreements.

Keep in mind that the judge will be influenced by his or her perception of what is in the best interests of the child. While both parents are theoretically seen as equal under the law, in some situations the father has a steeper hill to climb to achieve parity in the eyes of the court.

Below is the custody process in Centre County.  It is a useful guideline for other areas, but you should check with your attorney. We will be adding additional information and resources soon.
  • A parent files a petition for custody. Be sure that you confer with an attorney.

  • Both parents will then attend a regularly scheduled group custody conference where the Judge assigned to the case will explain the process.

  • Individual conferences will be held after the Judge’s introductory remarks.

  • If an agreement is reached, it will be put on the record and may be difficult to change.

  • If an agreement is not reached, the case most often will be referred to mandatory mediation through the Center for Alternatives in Community Justice (CACJ).

  • MEDIATION – If the case involved domestic violence issues, it will not be referred to mediation without the consent of both parties.

  • MEDIATION – If the moving party fails to appear for mediation orientation the complaint or petition is dismissed. If the responding party fails to appear for mediation orientation custodial time is suspended.

  • MEDIATION – If mediation is successful, an order is entered and may be difficult to change.

  • MEDIATION – The Center for Alternatives in Community Justice will submit a report to the Judge and a Custody Scheduling Order will be prepared for the Court for all cases which failed medication. Deadlines, schedules for pre-trial work, the date for a pre-hearing conference and the hearing will be scheduled.

  • If the case was not referred for mediation a Custody Scheduling Order will be prepared. Deadlines, schedules for pre-trial work, the date for a pre-hearing conference and the hearing will be scheduled.

  • A pre-hearing conference will be held with the Judge in chambers.

  • A custody hearing will be held.

  • All Custody related petitions will incur a $75 filing fee.

Legal Representation and Pennsylvania Custody Law

The Dads’ Resource Center does not provide legal advice and any references to resources do not constitute an endorsement of those services.

It is important for anyone coming in to mediation or appearing in court to seek their own legal council as soon possible.

You can go to the Centre County Bar Association website to search for attorneys that practice family law.

MidPenn Legal Services provides quality legal services for low income individuals. Anyone may contact them to assess if they qualify, and if MidPenn may possibly have services available. Their website is http://www.midpenn.org/.

The Centre County Court Administrator Office list of low fee attorneys is posted here.

The Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania has a page dedicated to representing yourself in custody proceedings (PA custody proceedings info) if you so choose to not hire an attorney.

Pennsylvania Custody Law

Pennsylvania Custody Procedural Rules

Types of custody orders in Pennsylvania

Both physical custody and legal custody exist in the state of Pennsylvania.
Physical custody is the physical possession of a child; this can be in the form of:

  • Sole custody – when one party alone has physical custody.
  • Shared custody – both parties share custody, with each having significant periods of time with the child.
  • Partial custody – when one party has the child for less time than the other.
  • Primary custody – when one party has the child for majority of the time.
  • Supervised custody – when an agency or another adult monitors visits between party and child.

Legal custody gives the party a right to make major decisions in the child’s life which typically includes decisions involving education, religious up-bringing and medical procedures/actions. Legal custody can be sole, shared or integrated into any form of physical custody.

In some situations other parties may seek custody. Custody is not a sole right of biological parents. Parents, grandparents, persons who stand in place of the parent and great-grandparents can file for full or partial custody in some instances.

Visitation

When the court issues a custody order, it may also address visitation rights. Visitation is the right for the non-custodial parent to visit with the child.

Someone with visitation rights may visit the child, but may not have the right to remove the child from the custodial parent’s control. Supervised visitation is the chance to visit with the child while in the presence of a third party who watches the interaction between the visiting parent and child and reports back to the judge.

How are custody decisions made?

Judges make custody decisions in Pennsylvania based on many factors. It is important to remember that custody decisions are intended for the purpose of insuring that the best interests of the child are protected. The judge must now consider specific factors including, but not limited to the following:

  • Which party is more likely to encourage and promote frequent and continued contact between the child and other party?
  • Any recent or past abuse committed by either party or anyone within their household.
  • The parental duties performed by each party on behalf of the child or children.
  • The availability of extended family to the minor child.
  • The preference of the child (based on maturity and judgment, usually past the age of 14).
  • Any past or future attempts to turn the child against the other party (i.e. alienation).
  • Ultimately what the judge determines is in the best interests of the child.

What if I want to move?

The current law governing whether a party may relocate out of the court’s jurisdiction has recently been rewritten. In Pennsylvania, if you want to relocate out of state and there is a custody order in place, the relocation cannot properly occur unless all parties to the custody order give consent or the judge approves the relocation. If all parties do not give consent, the judge will weigh the following factors:

  • The age, development stage and needs of the child.
  • Whether the relocation will improve the general quality of life financially, emotionally and educationally for the parent and most importantly of the child.
  • The reasons for seeking relocation as well as the reasons for opposing parties’ oppositions.
  • The possibility of continuing a relationship between the non-relocating party and the child through appropriate custody arrangements taking into account financial resources and location of both parties.

Another significant factor is that the party wishing to relocate must follow a formal procedure sending notification to the other party. The other party has only 30 days to object or they forfeit their right to challenge the move. If you get a notice from your ex asking to relocate, do not procrastinate! Call an attorney immediately!

Living together but apart

Parents who are still living together may apply for a custody order, which becomes effective immediately after the actual physical separation occurs. In the past, the court would not enter an order until the parties were living separate and apart, Now it will.

Keep in mind that the judge will be influenced by his or her perception of what is in the best interests of the child. While both parents are theoretically seen as equal under the law, in some situations the father has a steeper hill to climb in order to achieve parody in the eyes of the court. Fathers who want to play a major role in their children’s lives may have to do more than the mother to prove they deserve to do so, even though the law says both parents should be treated equally.

Petitions of modification

Because custody and support are supposed to be decided for the best interest of the child, a custody order is never permanent. If a custody order is already in place, either party can ask the judge to change it — you can petition the court for a modification of custody.

To modify (change) a custody order, you will need to go to the court that issued the order, even if you have relocated. Once a case is heard, the jurisdiction of the case will not change even if you move to another state. If you have in fact moved, you can ask the judge to change the jurisdiction (transfer the case) to the new state that you are in although this is often difficult to accomplish, especially if the other parent disagrees.