Bucks County Custody Issues
Custody in a Bucks County divorce is a great concern for both parents. Child custody is perhaps the most emotionally difficult aspect of divorce. The details can be extremely important and frequently burdensome to get through. From weekends, vacations, transportation, religious decisions, and education/health decisions, custody can be very challenging to navigate.
There are two forms of custody: Physical custody and legal custody. Parents may seek custody through the Bucks County courts or by agreement of the parties. Custody includes both physical and legal ramifications of these arrangements. Your custody should set forth the specific schedule between both parents including holiday and vacation schedules, requirements as to travel, how to communicate when the children are not in your custody, who may be with your children if you are unavailable and other aspects of Bucks County child custody.
Physical Custody (Primary, Partial, Shared, Sole and Supervised)
Physical Custody simply involves with whom the child physically resides or is with at a certain time. Physical custody is often further categorized as primary physical custody, Partial physical custody, shared physical custody, sole physical or supervised physical custody. The terms are applied depending on the amount of time spent with each parent including overnight time. What had been called “visitation” is now called supervised physical custody. The term “joint custody” is no longer used.
Legal Custody involves the ability of each parent to make important decisions in their child’s life. Legal Custody spans issues related to: education, medical care, extra curricular activities and religion. Legal Custody is either sole or shared.
Best Interest of the Child
In Pennsylvania, the standard for reviewing child custody petitions or modifications has been “the best interest of the child.” When dealing with custody issues the most important concern is the welfare of the child involved. Keep in mind, that generally, the child will benefit from having both parents involved in their lives. In light of this, we always seek to resolve matters in the most reasonable manner possible.
Accordingly, we strive to conduct meaningful settlement discussions and negotiation with the opposing party and their counsel. At the same time, if your matter requires that we take a tough stance on a certain issue, or if we are forced to litigate some of your claims, we will fight hard for your best interests, while keeping the big picture in mind.
Custody Litigation vs. Settlement
Litigation for custody is not always needed if the parents can agree upon a custody schedule without requiring court intervention. However, it is often difficult to decide what days and times each parent will have custody and how vacation and holiday custody will be divided. Accordingly, often the parties will need to proceed through the various processes applicable in the county where they reside until a determination is reached with regard to the custody issues. As noted above, in Pennsylvania, the Bucks County court will consider “the best interest of the child” or children when dealing with custody litigation.
“Status Quo” is a Latin phrase which essentially means “the existing state of affairs” and is used in describing the current custody arrangement. The “status quo” is important in custody matters since the existing situations not often disturbed if the child is thriving in the present circumstances. However, modifications to custody are always permissible and we will zealously advocate for you in such instances where a recent separation or change in circumstances warrant addressing or readdressing the custody situation.
Filing for Custody or Modifying Custody
The initiation of custody proceedings involves submitting to several processes, and is not often resolved quickly. If the parties do not agree on a custody schedule, the matter may proceed through one or more hearings and may ultimately require a full custody trial before the matter is resolved. Custody can be one of the most hotly contested areas of domestic relations law, and often takes compromise and agreement between both parents in order to provide for the child.
In Bucks County if there is no agreement among the parties to a new custody action, at a minimum you will be required to attend an education seminar and a mediation. This may be followed by a conciliation; partial custody trial; psychological examinations; judicial conciliation; or a full custody trial depending on the individual circumstances.
In the ever-changing world in which we reside here in Bucks County, or parent or the other finds themselves in a situation where they have to relocate out of the jurisdiction for employment, re-marriage or other reasons. A relocation is probably the most difficult decision parents and the Bucks County courts must make. It is important to have a Bucks County family attorney who understands the trauma and nuances associate with relocation. At Gallant, Parlow, & Lang, we have engaged in numerous hearings involving relocation. We have also argued several cases before the Superior Court applying the current law to relocation matters. We have an established track record of success in facilitating or preventing a relocation based upon the facts and circumstances.
Compromise in Custody
We want to obtain the most favorable results for you and your children, and that often means compromising in order to resolve things more quickly, thereby keeping your costs down and reducing the amount of stress your family will have to endure. Unfortunately when the parents do not get along, they are often unable to think clearly about what is really best for the children.
Regardless of what you may personally feel, the court will almost always rule that it is in a child’s best interest to have both parents involved in their upbringing. In most cases, the biological parents of a child will have to share in the lives of their children until the child reaches the age of majority or graduates from secondary school. In addition, if the child is disabled the support obligation may continue, sometimes indefinitely.
Other Custody Issues & Law
Pennsylvania Custody Law:
On November 23, 2010, Governor Rendell signed Act 112 of 2010 into Law. The Act essentially rewrote Child Custody law in Pennsylvania. The law declares “it is public policy of this Commonwealth, when in the best interest of the child, to assure a reasonable and continuing contact of the child with both parents after a separation or dissolution of the marriage and the sharing of the rights and responsibilities of child rearing by both parents and continuing contact of the child or children with grandparents when a parent is deceased, divorced or separated.”
Under the new Act which took effect on January 24, 2011:
1) Courts will be prohibited from assuming that custody should be awarded to a particular parent based solely on gender.
2) Contempt citations for willful violations of custody orders will be gender neutral.
3) Consideration must be given to a comprehensive list of factors, including: Which parent is more likely to encourage and permit frequent contact with the other parent; parental duties of each parent; the need for stability and continuity in the child’s education, family life, and community life; assuring access to siblings and extended family; protection for victims of domestic violence.
4) Judges must provide an explanation of custody decisions.
5) A framework will be used by Judges in making relocation decisions.
6) Relocation decisions will require consideration of how the move will enhance the quality of life for the child and not just how it will benefit the parent seeking to move.
7) Each parent must submit a parenting plan in cases of contested custody, allow for appointment of a guardian ad litem or counsel for the child when necessary.
8) The list of criminal convictions courts may consider in determining custody has been expanded.
Additional Changes to Pennsylvania Custody Law
As part of the big changes to Pennsylvania Custody law several key aspects of the child custody process have been affected. The new law specifically codifies the holdings of various case law which had been relied on exclusively in the past.
* Now, there are sixteen factors the court is to consider when determining what is in the “best interest” of a child. (See list below).
* Additionally, the issue of relocation has undergone wholesale changes and now utilizes new forms and procedures whenever a move is desired.
* Further, the issue of “standing” in custody matters has changed. * Other changes involve the revised use of parenting plans and child guardians.
* Also noteworthy is the new ability for the initiation of a custody proceeding while both parents continue to reside in the same residence.
Pa.C.S. 23 § 5328. Factors to consider when awarding custody.
(a) Factors.–In ordering any form of custody, the court shall determine the best interest of the child by considering all relevant factors, giving weighted consideration to those factors which affect the safety of the child, including the following:
(1) Which party is more likely to encourage and permit frequent and continuing contact between the child and another party.
(2) The present and past abuse committed by a party or member of the party’s household, whether there is a continued risk of harm to the child or an abused party and which party can better provide adequate physical safeguards and supervision of the child.
(3) The parental duties performed by each party on behalf of the child.
(4) The need for stability and continuity in the child’s education, family life and community life.
(5) The availability of extended family.
(6) The child’s sibling relationships.
(7) The well-reasoned preference of the child, based on the child’s maturity and judgment.
(8) The attempts of a parent to turn the child against the other parent, except in cases of domestic violence where reasonable safety measures are necessary to protect the child from harm.
(9) Which party is more likely to maintain a loving, stable, consistent and nurturing relationship with the child adequate for the child’s emotional needs.
(10) Which party is more likely to attend to the daily physical, emotional, developmental, educational and special needs of the child.
(11) The proximity of the residences of the parties.
(12) Each party’s availability to care for the child or ability to make appropriate child-care arrangements.
(13) The level of conflict between the parties and the willingness and ability of the parties to cooperate with one another. A party’s effort to protect a child from abuse by another party is not evidence of unwillingness or inability to cooperate with that party.
(14) The history of drug or alcohol abuse of a party or member of a party’s household.
(15) The mental and physical condition of a party or member of a party’s household.
(16) Any other relevant factor.