How Is Custody Decided in Pennsylvania Courts?
Most of the time, parents are able to come to an agreement on the best type of custody arrangement for them and their minor children. Our Western PA and Pittsburgh custody lawyers can assist parents who have agreed upon a custody schedule to formalize their arrangement into a custody order. Having the agreement made into a custody order allows both parties the right to enforce the agreement if future disputes occur between the parents. Even when the parents are angry at each other, hopefully they can step back from their anger and realize that both parents play an important role in their children's lives.
However, in some cases, the parents are not able to speak to each other without fighting, let alone come to an agreement regarding custody. If the parents are not able to agree on a custodial arrangement, family court action may be necessary. The formal legal process begins with the filing of a Custody Complaint by a Pennsylvania custody lawyer. Generally, the Complaint is filed in the state and county where the minor child or children have lived for the past six months.
After filing the Pennsylvania Custody Complaint and prior to any scheduled family court dates, some counties require that the parents and children over a certain age attend a seminar that explains the court process, the emotional impact upon the children of the parents' separation and the legal process. In Allegheny County custody cases, the parents in a custody action must also attend a mediation session with a court-appointed mediator. If the custody problems are not resolved by mediation or if no mediation program exists, usually the initial court hearing involves a conference with a court-appointed custody master or hearing officer. The custody master or hearing officer is not an elected judge; he or she is a court employee who is assigned to try to assist parties in resolving custody disputes and, if they cannot come to an agreement, the hearing officer or master may enter a temporary order.
If an agreement cannot be made at the conference before the custody master or hearing officer, home studies and/or psychological evaluations of the parents and children may be ordered by the family court. The psychologist's opinion in a child custody case is given a great deal of weight by the family court judges. In fact, approximately eighty percent of the time, the family court judge will enter a custody order that mirrors the recommendation of the court-appointed expert; sometimes with only minor adjustments to the report. For this reason, it is crucial for a parent to consult with an experienced child custody lawyer prior to attending any appointments with the court-appointed psychologist.
Once the psychological evaluations are completed and a report is issued by the court-appointed psychologist, a pre-trial conference is generally scheduled with the assigned family court judge. Most of the time, the conference is in the judge's chambers with only the child custody lawyers present in chambers and the parties waiting in the hall. If this step does not result in a settlement, a custody trial is then conducted and the family court judge will determine the custodial arrangement that is in the best interests and welfare of the children.
Best Interest of the Child Standard under PA Custody Laws
The Pennsylvania best interests of the child analysis includes consideration of all factors which have an effect upon the child's physical, intellectual, moral and spiritual well-being. The best interests of the child analysis generally includes consideration of any prior custody arrangements including the amount of time each parent has spent with the child in the past; the involvement of each parent in the child's school, religious upbringing and medical care; whether there are other siblings or half-siblings in either parent's residence; the child's preference if the child can articulate a justifiable reason for the preference; the school district where each parent resides and the distance between the parents' residences; whether either parent or the children suffer from any psychological or physical conditions; whether either parent abuses prescription or illegal drugs or alcohol; whether the parents are able to communicate and cooperate with each other regarding the children; whether either parent has attempted to undermine the other parent's custody rights; and any other factors that may impact the minor children's best interests.
Contact Our Pittsburgh Child Custody Attorneys Today
Our Pittsburgh child custody lawyers have represented over 500 parents who fought for their children's best interests. Our Allegheny County custody lawyers were able to negotiate and settle many of these parents' disputes, but also have extensive trial experience in custody cases fighting for what was right for the children and both parents.
Contact our Pittsburgh child custody lawyers to speak with one of our experienced Allegheny County custody lawyers and learn how we can help your family. You may also telephone our PA custody law firm in Pittsburgh at 412-281-9906, Southpointe (Canonsburg, Washington County) at 724-436-5500, Cranberry Township (Butler County, PA) at 724-776-9906 or toll-free at 1-855-VARI-LAW (1-855-827-4529). Our Pittsburgh and Southpointe law offices are open Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. and evenings by appointment. Our Cranberry Township office is open by appointment only. We're different from many other Pittsburgh custody lawyers, click here to learn why.
Appointments may also be available in other meeting locations throughout Western Pennsylvania upon advance arrangements with our office. Ask the secretary scheduling your appointment for details including appointment locations.
Our Western PA family law office routinely accepts custody cases in Allegheny County, Beaver County, Butler County, Lawrence County, Mercer County, Washington County, and Westmoreland County. Our Pittsburgh child custody attorneys accept custody cases in other Western PA counties such as Armstrong County, Erie County, Fayette County, Greene County, Somerset County and Venango County on a case-by-case basis.
Click the following link to learn more about Pennsylvania child custody laws.