THE BEST FOR
YOUR CHILDREN

CHILD CUSTODY

Any child custody case is emotionally exhausting, costly and time-consuming. Quality child custody representation can offset that overwhelming feeling and help you work toward a beneficial solution for you and your children.

Meanwhile, it’s helpful to understand how custody works.

There are two types of child custody: legal and physical.

Legal refers to the major decisions made on behalf of children, such as educational, religious, medical and others. Physical is where the child or children actually live. In both cases, courts prefer that both parents are involved and do not automatically favor one parent over another.

TYPES OF PHYSICAL CUSTODY

When shared or joint physical custody is not possible, there are three other types:

PRIMARY CUSTODY

Children spend the majority of their time with one parent or custodian

PARTIAL CUSTODY

Children spend less than half the time with a parent or custodian and that time is unsupervised unless specifically ordered as supervised

SUPERVISED VISITATION

Children visited under supervision of an agency or another person

If an amicable agreement cannot be reached between the parents or custodians, a judge will decide what is best for the children, based on 16 factors:

  • Who performs the parental duties?
  • Who provides stability in the children’s schooling, family and community?
  • Who takes care of the children’s emotional needs, for a loving, stable, nurturing environment?
  • Who takes care of the children’s daily needs, including special needs?
  • Is there a history of drug or alcohol abuse by a parent or custodian or anyone in their houses?
  • What is the mental and physical condition of the parent or custodian or those in their houses?
  • Who will encourage or permit frequent contact between the child and other parent/custodian?
  • Has there been abuse by a parent/custodian or anyone in their house; and who can better protect the children?
  • Is there extended family available?
  • How will custody affect sibling relationships, including half-siblings and step-siblings?
  • What are the children’s “well-reasoned preferences”?
  • Has either parent or custodian tried to turn the children against the other (except where needed due to domestic violence)?
  • How far apart do the parents or custodians live?
  • Are the parents or custodians able to care for the children or provide childcare for them?
  • Are the parents or custodians able to co-parent without conflict (except in cases of violence)?
  • Are there any other relevant factors to consider?

Children cannot decide where they would like to live.

And to move with them, the parent or custodian must either get consent from the other parent or custodian or a court order.

If one parent violates the terms of the custodial agreement, a petition for civil contempt can be brought before the Family Court Judge, who will set a hearing to determine whether the violation was willful. (You won’t get help from the police, as this is a civil case, unless there has been a violation of kidnapping-related laws.) If there was a willful violation, the Judge can change the terms of the custody order and sanction the party in contempt.

If grandparents are willing to assume parental responsibilities, they can seek custody when the children are:

  • Court ordered as dependent on Children and Youth Services.
  • Substantially at risk due to parental abuse, neglect, drug or alcohol abuse or incapability.
  • The children lived with the grandparents for at least 12 straight months, except brief interruptions; the parents removed the children; and the grandparents file an action within six months.

Grandparents can seek partial custody or visitation where:

  • Their child, the parent of the children, is deceased.
  • The parents of the children have been separated at least six months or have filed for divorce.
  • Then children lived with the grandparents for at least 12 straight months, except brief interruptions; the parents removed the children; and the grandparents file an action within six months.

HOW WE CAN HELP

Due to limited resources, we cannot handle every child custody matter. Those we deem an emergency will be accepted, along with those involving abuse or if a custody schedule is needed after a Juvenile Court case ends.  Our child custody lawyers and paralegals will attempt to negotiate and reach a child custody consent order, and in other cases, can offer advice on child custody. In Washington County only, we handle the Child Custody Limited Representation program, including negotiations before the Conference Officer for those who financially qualify, live in the county and have not had a child custody order within the last two years.

Contact Us

THE COUNTY COURT PROCESS


Emergency motions for temporary orders or for contempt must be brought before the assigned Judge in each county. Filing fees will be required in each county, unless the court grants a waiver. The court generally grants a waiver to those financially eligible for legal aid. Each county has rules for submission of forms and/or participation in child custody education.

FAYETTE COUNTY

Custody complaints are filed with the Prothonotary at the courthouse, with a copy to the Court Administrator for assignment of child custody mediation in the courthouse. If no agreement is reached, the mediator may refer the case to the Family Court Judge for a hearing. For local rules, go to www.co.fayette.pa.us

GREENE COUNTY

Custody complaints are filed with the Prothonotary at the courthouse, which will obtain a conciliation court date, from the Court Administrator, with a Child Custody Hearing Officer. If no agreement is reached, a hearing will be scheduled. If neither side requests a trial or argument before the Judge, that order will become final. For local rules, go to www.co.greene.pa.us.

SOMERSET COUNTY

Custody complaints are filed with the Prothonotary with a request to schedule a conference or hearing. For local rules, go to www.co.somerset.pa.us.

WASHINGTON COUNTY

Custody complaints are initiated at the child custody office in the basement of the courthouse and will be assigned to a Child Custody Conference Officer for a one hour settlement meeting. If no agreement is reached, a half-day hearing will be scheduled, after which the Conference Officer will issue a recommended temporary order. If neither side then requests a trial before the Judge, that order will become final. For local rules, go to www.washingtoncourts.us.

The child custody law is found at 23 Pa.C.S. Chapter 53. For more online information, go to www.palawhelp.org.

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