When you’re facing a situation where you need to seek legal child custody, you probably have many pressing questions. We’ve answered some of the common questions we hear from parents in child custody cases.
How do I get full custody of my child?
“FULL” custody in Pennsylvania is not available. There are two forms of custody in Pennsylvania. The first is LEGAL custody, which is defined as the right to make decisions on behalf of a minor child as long as they remain a minor. Almost always in PA, legal custody is shared by both parents meaning that neither parent can make unilateral decisions on behalf of the child without consulting the other parent. These decisions generally fall into four major categories: religion, education, medical and extra-curricular activities. This is not the entire list and many be extended to other areas if the court determines it is in the best interest of the child. The Court will only award sole legal custody to one parent in extreme situations when it can be proven by the preponderance of the evidence that the one parent is incapable of making decisions on behalf of the child that will not lead to harm to the child.
The second form of custody is PHYSICAL custody, which is defined as to a living arrangement schedule for the child with both parents. In most cases, physical custody will be shared by the parents in some manner even if this means that one parent has the child the majority of the time or the parents share the living schedule equally. The Court must act in what it believes to be the child’s best interests and it is in the child’s best interests to have a relationship with both parents.
Do the Courts still prefer mothers for awarding Physical Custody?
No. Any gender biases that may have been built into the custody statute were eliminated many years ago. Both Mother and Father stand on equal footing in a custody action and both have equal rights to the child. As stated above, if Mother and Father are unable to determine an appropriate physical custody schedule, the Court will determine an appropriate schedule for the
Do the agreements we made when married about the religion we chose for the child bind the parties to continue to raise the child in that religion? Can I stop the other parent from taking the child to a new church or a different type of religious service?
You cannot stop the other parent from taking the child to a different religious service or make the other parent abide by a religious choice made during the marriage or make the other parent take the child to your church. The Courts have declined to interfere with a parent’s ability to raise a child in the faith of his or her choice. The Court will not step in to prevent a parent from taking the children to one particular religious service. The Court will not choose between the parents’ respective faiths. If, however, you can establish that the children are being physically harmed or emotionally harmed by the other parent’s religion, then the Court may restrict religious teachings in a Custody Order but that is very rare and difficult to prove. If the teachings involve a violation of the law or suggest to the child that it is appropriate to violate a law, it may be restricted.
At what age may a child decide whom he or she is going to live with?
There is no age where a child gets to make the decision where he or she is going to live. A child is a minor and so does not make that decision. If both parents cannot agree upon an appropriate physical custody schedule, then the Court will determine the appropriate schedule and all parties, including the child, will be expected to follow that schedule. The older your child is, the more likely the Court will consider the child’s preference for one parent over another parent but the Court need not ever act in accordance with the child’s preference. The judge will interview the child at approximately five years old and will begin listen to reasons for preferences at approximately twelve years old.
Will the court order a parent to be restricted to supervised visitations?
Supervised visitation is considered an extreme remedy in Pennsylvania. There must be evidence demonstrating that the child is at risk in that parent’s physical custody without supervision and that such supervision is absolutely necessary. Supervised visitation means that all aspects of that parent’s period of custody must be supervised. There must be a basis from to establish that there is a strong risk of harm to have supervised visitation ordered by the court such as from a recent criminal conviction which related to the safety of the child. If the parent and the child leave the room, the supervisor must leave the room with them. The parent is never allowed be alone with the child. The supervisor is usually required to watch a video on supervising custody at the courthouse and to execute an affidavit expressing that he or she understands his or her responsibilities as a supervisor.
Do I have to make my child go with the other parent if the child objects?
YES. You must follow the court order which requires the child to go with the other parent. If the child does not go with the other parent and there is a Custody Order in place, the parent permitting the child to stay home when he or she is supposed to go with the other parent may be held in contempt of the Custody Order. Contempt is punishable by fines, payment of the other parent’s attorney fees and/or jail time. Only the parent who is exercising physical custody may excuse the child from going with him or her for scheduled custody. Judges has ordered that the parent must physically put the child in the other parent’s car, if necessary so that the scheduled custody occurs. When the child is old enough to explain to the other parent his or her feelings, the child should express to the other parent why he or she does not want to be with him or her and then the parties should either agree to a new schedule of go back to court for the judge to determine what is in the best interest of the child. The judge will interview the child about his or her concerns and will use that factor in his determination.
May I keep my ex-wife/ex-husband from introducing a new girlfriend/new boyfriend to my children?
You really cannot prevent this introduction unless the new boyfriend or girlfriend is guilty of an “enumerated” offense. Enumerated offenses are offenses the Pennsylvania State legislature specified in the Custody statutes as being relevant to the determination of an appropriate custody schedule. In general terms, these offenses include DUIs, drug offenses, sex offenses and violent offenses. If the new boyfriend or girlfriend has been charged with an enumerated offense, the Court may require that individual to undergo an evaluation to determine if he or she is a risk or threat of harm to the child. If the evaluation demonstrates that there is no risk to your child, he or she will be permitted to be around your child even though he or she has a criminal history. If the new girlfriend or boyfriend’s criminal record occurred many years ago, the Court may also assume that the individual is not a risk or threat of harm to your child and will allow that person to be around the child..
If you need assistance in any Family Law matter such as a Custody issue, you can call me anytime at 717-200-HELP. We stand ready to represent you and your interests.
If you need assistance in a Family Law to Custody matter, you can call me at 717-200-HELP. We stand ready to represent you and your interests.