"Try not to be that high up to be friends, I want everything to be low, OK? Just try your best...I want you and my dad to be in a place that's settled and be friends." This very mature sounding quotes comes from the mouth of a young six-year old girl wearing a pink fuzzy bunny t-shirt in a recent viral video. This video was captured by Tiana's mother, who is currently engaged in a tumultuous family law proceeding with the child's Father. Cherish Sherry, Tiana's mother, said that this speech from her daughter brought her to tears and reminded her what was most important in all of this, her daughter. Though this video has now gotten tens of thousands of views on Youtube and other websites across the internet, for the family law practitioners amount us, it reminds us that despite how volatile divorce and custody cases can be, the kids are the most important part, and Pennsylvania law backs this up.
Pennsylvania custody law is governed by several factors including each parent's ability to provide for the children's emotional, physical and educational needs. However, the overarching theme to custody decisions in Pennsylvania is the "best interest of the child" standard. This standard is often vague and hard for parents involved in a custody case to wrap their head around , but this standard exists to remind us of the little people in our lives who so often get lost in the shuffle while their parents fight over retirement accounts houses and support payments. Though each judge at the trial level interprets this standard based on the individual facts of the case, generally the court attempts to root out fighting, violence and disparaging remarks by parents in front of children and seeks to protect these young eyes and ears from their parents' very adult problems. Often, judges will issue orders requiring parents to refrain from disparaging each other in their children's presence and requiring parents to undergo co-parenting counseling in order to keep life "settled" for the children.
Another major issue that comes up again and again in the most contentious divorce and custody cases is the issue of "parental alienation". Parental alienation occurs when one parent attempts to turn the child or children against the other parent and destroy the parental relationship usually for perceived or falsified reasons. Sometimes this alienation can result from a difference of opinion with the other parents, but often it is caused more by one parent trying to use the children as a pawn in their chess game with the other parent. When tempers flare, it's obviously hard to keep your statements in check around your children; however, if judges see evidence of parental alienation, they will often punish the alienating parent by limiting custody or requiring the family counseling.
In order to protect the best interest of the children involved in custody cases, Allegheny County has adopted the Generations Education program. When a custody case is initiated within Allegheny County, both parties are required to attend an Education program on a pre-scheduled Saturday morning at the Family Court building on Ross Street in Downtown Pittsburgh. At this program with the help of family counselors and court representatives, litigants learn how to constructively deal with the issues with each other and with their children. The program also discusses the impact that disagreements and fighting has on children of all ages. There is also a children's component to the program; children involved in custody cases between the ages of five and seventeen are required to attend a program where they engage in age appropriate activities to learn to deal with their own feelings about their parents' separations and disagreements. This method has proven successful and Allegheny County reports that there has been a significant increase in child custody cases settling with the parents instead of the judge making the decisions about the children. As a result of Allegheny County's success with the Generations program, many outlying counties including Washington County and Beaver County have created their own programs modeled after Generations.
If you are currently involved in a custody case in Western Pennsylvania and wan t help reaching an amicable resolution, contact our Pittsburgh office today!