Custody disputes can turn very ugly, very quickly. Anytime there is a child involved there can be very serious and extreme feelings of anger and resentment towards the parties. Allow our Family Law Attorneys, with experience in Delaware, Chester, Lancaster, Montgomery, and Berks Counties, to represent you today and make those uncomfortable family matter more bearable.
In Pennsylvania, a custody action is initiated by filing a Custody Complaint. Once the Custody Complaint has been filed both parties will be required to attend a Parenting Classes. Next comes a Custody mediation.
At the mediation, which you must attend without your lawyer, you can decide to come to some type of agreement about the custody of your child or you cannot come to an agreement and continue down the legal process. If no agreement is made the next step is a Conciliation Conference which is overseen by a Master, much like a judge.
At the Conference, both the clients and their attorneys, and the mediator who was present at the Custody mediation will get the opportunity to speak with the Master. This is a very informal proceeding. At the end of the conference the Master will issue an order stating the grounds for Legal Custody, and Physical Custody. Legal Custody is the right to be the decision maker regarding the child’s general welfare, religion, medical treatment. It is not uncommon for the master to order that the parties will have “shared legal custody,” meaning that they share the responsibility for these decisions, and they must agree on those decisions together. Physical Custody represents who physically has the child at certain times. Typically the court can divide the time anyway it sees fit, as long as the determination is made in the best interest of the child. Lastly the Order may also contain special provisions, at the discretion of the master, including but not limited to, that the parties attend co-parenting classes, undergo psychological evaluations, and/or come back to Court for a follow up Conference at a later date. Also clients unhappy with the Master’s decision can always appeal.
The law regarding child custody in Pennsylvania is that the court will consider the “Best Interest of the Child” standard. This means that the court will not examine the individual parents, but will determine what is in the child’s best interest using the factors listed below. Also to many people surprise the law clearly states that, “In making a determination under subsection (a),factors when awarding custody, no party shall receive preference based upon gender in any award granted under this chapter. In Pennsylvania these factors are considered when determining “the best interest of the child”.
(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, or
(16) Any other relevant factor.
If you’re interested in having the Ciccarelli Law Firm represent you during your custody proceeding, or to appeal from a Master’s decision please contact us today. Our experienced family lawyers have represented clients all over, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, Lancaster, and Philadelphia Counties. Please call 610-692-8700 to schedule a consultation today.