Child Custody Lawyer in Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh, PA, Custody Attorney - Custody Lawyer - Allegheny Co.
We represent clients in Pittsburgh custody cases including: conciliations, hearings, contempt, relocation, and trials. If you need help getting custody of your child, modifying an existing custody Order, or handling relocation with your child, we welcome the opportunity to assist you.
Offering Counsel on Father's Rights, Mother's Rights, and Grandparent's Rights
Law Offices of Scott L. Levine, LLC
425 1st Ave - 6th Floor
Pittsburgh, PA 15219
Pittsburgh Child Custody
Our experienced Pittsburgh child custody attorneys can handle any aspect of your custody case. Whether you need to begin an entirely new custody action or require representation for an existing matter, we can help you. We have guided countless fathers and mothers seeking to establish new custody or increase their amount of custodial time.
We also offer counsel if you have concerns or reservations about the other parent's custodial time arising from their absence from the child's life, or because of substance abuse, neglect, or criminal history.
If you are planning to move or relocate with your minor children there are specific procedures, which must be followed to avoid being ordered by the court to return. Call us before you move to make sure you comply with the law. If the other parent moves without seeking your consent, we can remedy the situation and get you a hearing in front of a judge.
If there is no existing custody order for your child, and the other parent refuses to return the child to you or relocates without your consent, we can petition the court for emergency relief.
PA Custody Basics
Custody may be part of the divorce process, or it could involve unmarried parents seeking to establish, change, or keep current living arrangements in place.
In Pennsylvania, there are two types of child custody: legal and physical.
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, extracurricular activities, and religion. Legal custody is either sole or shared.
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.
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 way 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.
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.
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 court will consider "the best interest of the child" or children when dealing with custody litigation.
That being said, it should be noted that any time you proceed with litigation you're asking a third party to make important decisions about when you see your child and the conditions under which such time is enjoyed.
A wise judge once explained this process essentially by advising the litigants that: the Court did not know either parent, their families, backgrounds or the child, yet because the parties could not agree how to best raise their child, it was the task of the Court to make a decision that would affect the lives of several people. This decision was going to be made after each parent presented themselves and parenting abilities in the light most favorable to them, while attempting to illustrate examples of why the other party was not an equally good parent. After hearing from both sides over the course of many hours or days, the Court was then burdened with having to decide the circumstances of how the litigants would enjoy time with their child, a situation where generally neither party would be entirely pleased with the outcome, since in most cases, there has to be some level of compromise.
Bottom line, agreeing to custodial issues can be very difficult. You just need to decide if you prefer to have a say in the outcome or if you prefer leaving the final decision to a judge/master who does not know you or child and is simply trying to do the best they can when forced to decide how a child will enjoy time with each parent.
You should consider if your expectations of a future custody arrangement are realistic in terms of the amount of time enjoyed by each parent. Additionally, consideration should be given to whether such expectations are manageable with regard to the distances from the parent’s homes to one another and the child's school or daycare. Consideration must be given to the start and end time of education and balanced against the work schedules of either parent. When crafting your desired custody schedule it is important to request custodial time that is both feasible for you to exercise and that is not overly burdensome to the child or other parent.
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 situation is 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.
Generations Program - Allegheny County Family Court - First Floor 440 Ross Street
In Allegheny County, if there is no agreement among the parties to a new custody action, the parties must proceed through the Generations Program. At a minimum, you will be required to attend an educational seminar and a mediation. This may be followed by a conciliation; partial custody trial; psychological examinations; judicial conciliation(s); or a full custody trial depending on the individual circumstances.
The link to the Allegheny County Custody Case Flow Chart provides an overview of the various custody procedures, which may apply to your matter.
Changes to Pennsylvania Law
On November 23, 2010, the governor 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."
The new Act, which took effect on January 24, 2011, made many substantial changes to how custody is handled in PA. The biggest change is that custody actions are now gender neutral, meaning that it is no longer assumed that a child should spend more time with the mother or father. The matters are reviewed on a case by case basis and the presumption often begins that custody should be shared equally if possible.
Additional Changes to Pennsylvania Law
As part of the sweeping 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 uses to determine what is in the "best interest" of a child. 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.
Criminal Record/Abuse History Verification
Any new custody complaint or modification requires that a ”Criminal Record/Abuse History Verification" be submitted to the court at the time of filing. In October 2013, this form replaced the "Affidavit of my Household" first listed under the 2011 revised law. These forms like their predecessors must be current as of the past 30 days and are often resubmitted each time the parties are at court for a custody conciliation or hearing.
Factors when awarding custody.
Pa.C.S. 23 §5328 (a) lists the sixteen factors considered by a court in awarding custody.
When issuing a decision in a contested custody case, recent case law has set forth that the trier of fact must specifically consider each of the above factors in the final decision. Likewise, when presenting your case it is important to address each and every single factor; however, briefly in your argument to the court. That being said, the factors are all weighed differently with some being more important than others. Each case is unique and it is up to the persons involved to present their case in the light most favorable to them, while specifically offering reasoned support for asking the trier of fact to adopt their position.
Any parent wishing to relocate must follow the procedures set forth at 23 P.a. C.S. Section 5337. These include providing advance notice to the other parent via certified mail and providing specific documents including: (1) a warning about not responding and (2) a form which may be used if they object to the proposed move. If there is no agreement a hearing will be scheduled prior to the proposed move. If the move occurs without following the correct procedure, the parent who moved can be ordered to return the children to the prior jurisdiction until a full hearing can be held. At a relocation hearing, the court will consider a list of 10 factors when reviewing the move. Section 5337 (h) sets forth the specific relocation factors.
Accordingly, a parent who wants to move should now follow the specific steps of the latest relocation law. If there is no existing custody order, there may be more leeway, but it is always best to err on the side of caution. Also, the actual distance involved in the move may affect whether the case is considered a candidate for relocation, but generally any move that may impact the non-moving party falls under this category. Some moves within the same county are significant as they could make custody exchanges or travel to school or activities much more difficult. Bottom line, if you are contemplating moving and your child enjoys time with both parents and spends time between two households, you should consult with an attorney in your jurisdiction for guidance on how to best proceed.
23 P.a.R.C.P. Chapter 53 governs child custody in Pennsylvania. For Grandparent's rights, the governing law is set forth in Sections 5324 and 5325.
Section 5324 lists persons who may have standing (the requisite legal foundation) for filing for custody, including, in some cases, grandparents. This is further detailed in Section 5325 which lays out the specific instances where grandparents may pursue custody of grandchildren.
Accordingly, there are specific instances where grandparents have standing to pursue custody under PA law. However these situations are fact-specific, narrowly defined and limited in their application.
Note: The PA Supreme Court issued a decision on September 9, 2016, which greatly impacts the issue of grandparent standing.
Call 412.397.7175 for more information from a Pittsburgh child custody lawyer.
Contact us if you have questions about obtaining custody of your child. We proudly serve clients in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Allegheny County throughout Western Pennsylvania.