Weekly updates on family law topics by Brian C. Vertz | Partner
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New PA Custody Law

In 2011, Pennsylvania enacted a new custody law for the first time in nearly 30 years. The new law contains a few changes, but most of the new laws simply formalized the decisions that had developed over thirty years of custody litigation. Important changes were made in the areas of custody relocation and the court’s consideration of criminal convictions. To understand the changes, consult with a Pittsburgh custody attorney.

Do you have to litigate custody?

Few areas of the law are as contentious and unpredictable as custody litigation. In most cases, both spouses are fit parents, free of mental illness, substance abuse problems, or abusive tendencies. In such cases, the outcome of a custody battle may hinge on minor issues that may be magnified under judicial scrutiny. The 2011 custody law provides a list of 16 custody factors that must be considered. Parents and children may lose control over important aspects of their lives when custody cases are litigated. Most people would not want a stranger to decide how often they may see their children and under what conditions… even if the stranger is a judge.  That is why settlement is the best alternative to custody litigation unless there are severe problems.

What is the custody process in Pennsylvania?

Litigating custody may be a long process. Our courts have intentionally erected obstacles to dissuade parents from litigating custody disputes, encouraging settlement instead. For instance, parents are required to attend mandatory custody education and mediation sessions before they may proceed to court. Even when the courthouse door is opened to them, parents must attend judicial conciliations (settlement meetings) before hearings will be scheduled. Judges are mindful of the best interests of children. Their goal is not to avoid hard choices, but to encourage parents to put their children first and set aside their differences when making decisions that will affect the most vulnerable people invoved in a divorce (children).

Does Pennsylvania require a custody order?

Some parents believe that they must enter into a custody order to make their divorce “complete.” Actually, if an informal custody arrangement is working well, it is not always necessary to put it in writing. Custody orders can be beneficial to establish boundaries and set rules, but flexibility and cooperation may be sacrificed. When parents do not have a custody order, they might simply keep records of a custody schedule that is working. This will help them to prove the “status quo” if there is ever a dispute that requires court intervention.

Can I move away and take the kids?

The 2011 amendments to Pennsylvania’s custody law impose strict requirements on separated and divorced parents who want to move away. If the custody relocation will affect the custody rights of the parent who is staying, the move-away parent must give 60 days’ prior written notice by certified mail in most cases. The law specifies what information the notice must contain, so relocating parents are advised to seek legal help.

Custody Information

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The following links contain information about custody:

Private School Enrollment

U.S. Supreme Court Decision on International Custody Case

Should you Prepare for Custody Mediation?