The state of Pennsylvania has very specific requirements regarding child custody, and all of them aim to determine what is in the best interest of the child. If parents are unable to reach a mutually amenable agreement, the court will make a decision for them, giving consideration to all of the pertinent factors before handing down a custody order. Here are the basics of Pennsylvania’s child custody laws:
- A custody petition must be filed in the county where the child has lived for at least six months.
- Custody petitions can be filed by parents, someone who has acted as a parent, a grandparent who has or the court deems could have a relationship with the child, and who is willing to take responsibility for the child. In the case of grandparent custody, there are a number of other conditions that must be met.
- There are several different types of physical custody and legal custody. Physical custody can be shared, primary, partial, supervised, or sole. Legal custody can be either shared or sole.
- Custody petitions are filed at your county courthouse or family court. Petitioners should bring all pertinent documents that the court will need to form their opinion. These may include previous custody orders, protection from abuse orders, and identification documents. If you are in need of an expedited petition based on concerns that the other party is facing a criminal charge, a procedure is available.
- A decision will not be rendered on the day you file unless your situation is an emergency. In most cases you will either be provided with a court date or one will be mailed to you.
Custody hearings can be highly emotional, and it is important to make sure that you are well prepared with evidence that will support your position. During the court hearing, each side will be permitted to present their own testimony and to ask questions of the other side, and witnesses may also testify about things that they have personally witnessed. Evidence such as school reports or medical records can be submitted for the court’s consideration. It is important that you bring multiple copies of any evidence that you want the court to review.
The court will consider all of the information that it is presented with and then make a decision about what is in the best interests of the child. In making this decision, judges weigh past and present abuse, each party’s parental involvement, the child’s need for stability and continuity, and which parent is more likely to foster continuing contact with the other party. Consideration is also given to issues such as the existence of extended family, siblings, the child’s true preferences, and parental alienation.
Child custody issues are extremely important to the welfare of the child and your continuing relationship with the child. An experienced child custody attorney from Smith Horwitz can provide you with important insights and act as an advocate on your behalf.
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