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Pennsylvania Child Custody
Who is entitled to Custody of the Children?
If the parents are not able to agree, the court will determine the custodial agreement which is in the best interest and welfare of the children. The most common arrangement is for one parent to have primary custody while the other parent has temporary custody at various times during the year. However, the law no longer gives special preference to mother over fathers. The result in any given case will depend on the particular facts and circumstances of that case.
An award of sole custody to one parent with no custody or visitation rights to the other is rare. It is not uncommon for a court to allow a non-custodial parent to have input in making major decisions concerning the well-being of the children if the court finds that both parents are fit parents and are able to communicate effectively with each other in the interest of their children. An equal sharing of custody of children is also possible in appropriate cases.
As children get older, greater consideration is given by the court to the child's preference as to which parent he/she wishes to reside with. An important factor considered by the court in determining custody is that the children continue to live in a familiar and stable home environment. Courts are reluctant to disturb an existing arrangement if the children are doing well. The courts are also reluctant to split siblings between parents.
How Do I Obtain Custody or Visitation Rights?
A parent seeking custody or visitation rights may file a complaint in the county where the child has lived for the past six months. In many counties, a conference will be held with an appointed hearing officer to determine whether or not an arrangement by the parents can be made. If an agreement is not made, home studies and/or psychological evaluations are commonly ordered by the court. Finally, a hearing is held by the court at which all the evidence is presented and a determination is made. In most cases, the court will talk with the children to learn their feelings and preferences before making a decision.
Can Custody Orders be Changed?
An order of court establishing custody or visitation rights may always be modified providing that the change is in the best interests and welfare of the children.
How Are Custody Orders Enforced?
If a person willfully does not comply with a court order, that person could be cited for contempt of the court order, which could result in imprisonment. It is also a crime in Pennsylvania for one parent to interfere with the custodial rights of the other if those rights have been set forth in a court order. A violation of this order could also result in a term of imprisonment.
What if a Parent Takes the Children and Moves Out of State?
Most states have adopted some version of the uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act (UCCJA), which provides that they will recognize and enforce proper custody orders entered in other states. The UCCJA also sets forth guidelines as to which state court is appropriate for the hearing of a custody case if a custody order was not made before one of the parents moved with the children. Generally, the state of residence of the child for the past six months will be appropriate state to determine custody.
Relocating without advance notice to the noncustodial parent is frowned upon by the courts and could result in severe repercussions, including loss of custody rights.
To file for divorce in Pennsylvania, either spouse must have had residency in the Commonwealth for at least six months.
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