Pittsburgh Child Custody Lawyer
Comprehensive Representation in Custody Matters
Child custody can easily become one of the most emotionally charged areas of any domestic relations proceeding. Moreover, when children are involved, the relationship between the parents does not end when the court issues a divorce decree. The parties will continue to have contact with one another regarding support, custody, and other parental responsibilities.
An agreeable, final resolution of child custody matters is vital in ensuring that the parties are able to remain amicable and act in accordance with the court’s final order down the line. Amicable resolutions are ideal to facilitate keeping the lines of communication open and avoid harming the children by subjecting them to disputes between parents. A compassionate and experienced child custody attorney can help you resolve your child custody dispute as efficiently and effectively as possible so that both parents can move forward to the next chapter in their lives.
At Bunde & Roberts, our dedicated Pittsburgh child custody lawyers regularly assist clients with all types of custody matters. We have years of experience resolving complex and heated custody disputes between separated parents, divorcing couples, and couples who are already divorced and seeking enforcement of or adjustment to the final custody order. We encourage reasoned and cordial resolution of child custody matters where possible, but we will fight for the parental rights of our clients through trial and beyond where necessary.
Types of Custody in Pennsylvania
Custody of minors consists of two distinct concepts: 1) decision-making, referred to as legal custody; and 2) time-sharing of the physical presence of the child, referred to as physical custody. The court determines legal and physical custody by analyzing the best interests of the child. The court must evaluate a series of factors when making a custody decision. The seasoned Pittsburgh child custody attorneys at Bunde & Roberts will help you prepare the strongest case for the physical and legal custody you deserve in your Pennsylvania family law dispute.
Physical Custody. Physical custody concerns the physical presence of the child, i.e., the location where the child spends overnights. Shared physical custody describes an arrangement through which both parents share equal overnight time with the child. The time may be split unequally between the parent with “primary” custody and the parent with “partial” custody. In some circumstances, the child’s custodian may be a grandparent or a third party, such as a close relative. Physical custody can be supervised where there are concerns over leaving a child alone with the parent. Physical custody arrangements can vary significantly from one case to another. There is no perfect arrangement that fits all families or age groups.
Legal Custody. Legal custody is the right to make major decisions concerning a child, including decisions pertaining to religion, education, and health. Legal custody is often shared. Sole legal custody is usually only granted when one parent is not fit to make such decisions or where the parties have demonstrated to the court that they cannot successfully share legal custody. Common legal custody disputes often involve school choice.
Third-Party Custody. Under certain circumstances, individuals who are not the biological parents of a child may request physical custody of the child. Pennsylvania affords grandparents special status as it relates to custody issues for their grandchildren if the appropriate criteria is met. Other individuals who have played a significant role in a child’s life may request custody if certain conditions are met.
In addition to traditional custody disputes, some cases involve custody relocation, where one parent wants to move to a distant location, such as a different city or state. There are specific procedural requirements that must be met in order to bring a relocation case to the court. Some cases involve disputes between jurisdictions where the court has to determine who will decide the custody dispute and which law to apply. Pennsylvania has complex jurisdiction statutes that dictate where and how cases may be heard. The knowledgeable Pennsylvania child custody lawyers at Bunde & Roberts have handled many cases dealing with the complex legal issues surrounding jurisdictional disputes and parental relocation.
The Process for Determining Custody in Pennsylvania
If parties cannot agree on issues related to custody of minor children, they may mediate or litigate the issues. Each county in Pennsylvania has its own procedures for resolving custody, including some form of court-ordered education and mediation as a first step, where a trained professional assists the parties in trying to reach an appropriate agreement. If mediation fails, the issues proceed through a process that may lead to a hearing or trial. Sometimes the court will appoint a psychologist to conduct a psychological evaluation to assist the court and the parties in determining an appropriate custody schedule. The court may also appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the best interests of the child.
Guidelines for Child Custody
If you and your co-parent are dealing with child custody matters, here are some guidelines to ensure the health and well-being of your children, as well as to protect your parental rights:
- Put the child’s welfare ahead of conflicts between adults
- Avoid involving your child in any conflict between parents
- Help your child maintain a positive relationship with the other parent
- Honor your custody schedule
- If you are the partial custody parent, do not fill every moment with activities–your child needs quality time with you
- Do not use your child as a spy or to act as a messenger relaying information to the other parent
- Strive to make joint decisions on major issues affecting your child
The dedicated child custody attorneys at Bunde & Roberts can provide more specific advice and representation depending on the specifics of your family and your case.
Pennsylvania Child Custody FAQs
At Bunde & Roberts, P.C., we have decades of experience litigating and advising on Pennsylvania child custody matters, including the most complex and heated cases. Continue reading for answers from our dedicated and knowledgeable Pittsburgh child custody lawyers to many of the most commonly asked questions about Pennsylvania child custody.
What types of custody arrangements are available in Pennsylvania?
Child custody can be agreed upon by divorcing spouses or other co-parents, or it can be resolved by order of a family court. Pennsylvania courts separate “physical” custody and “legal” custody. Physical custody refers to actual physical possession of the child, and it can take the following forms:
- Shared physical custody between the parents
- Primary custody for one parent and partial custody for the other
- Supervised physical custody
- Sole physical custody for one parent
Legal custody refers to the authority to make big decisions about the child’s upbringing, such as education, religion, and medical matters. Legal custody is often shared between the parents, giving them an equal right to make decisions for the child. Sole legal custody may be awarded where one parent is not fit to make such decisions, or where the parents have shown they are incapable of sharing decision-making authority.
What happens if the parties cannot agree on custody?
If the parents cannot agree on custody, they will have to present their cases for their desired arrangements to the court. There may be a formal hearing during which each parent will be permitted to present evidence and witness testimony. The court will make a final custody decision and issue an order. The parties will be legally bound by the court’s order.
How does a court determine child custody?
If custody is contested, a Pennsylvania court will determine custody according to the best interests of the child. Pennsylvania law includes a list of factors the court must consider in evaluating the child’s best interests, including the following:
- The preferences of the children
- The stability of the environment each parent can provide
- Each parent’s ability and commitment to fostering a relationship with other relatives
- Any past criminal convictions
- Any history of substance abuse or domestic violence
Can I still get a no-fault divorce even if we have children?
Yes, you can still get a simple, no-fault divorce even where child custody is involved. You could incorporate an existing child custody arrangement if you and your spouse developed one when you separated. Alternatively, you and your spouse can agree to child custody, property division, and support arrangements at the time of divorce.
What if my spouse is violating the custody order?
If your spouse is ignoring the court’s order, such as by keeping your children longer than they are permitted to, you can file a petition with the court to enforce the order and/or hold the other parent in contempt. If they continue to ignore the court, they may be subject to penalties, including fines and other sanctions. It is important to air your grievances with the court rather than take matters into your own hands. Taking your kids and leaving the state, for example, may be seen as a form of kidnapping and can harm your custody rights.
Can custody ever be changed after divorce?
Child custody arrangement can be modified if it is in the best interest of the child to do wo. For example, if one party gets a new job and needs to relocate to a new state, child custody may be modified to account for the move. Custody may also be modified if one party experiences a significant health problem or becomes disabled, or if there are other circumstances which would benefit the child by changing the arrangement.
Reach Out to a Dedicated Pittsburgh Child Custody Lawyer
If you are facing child custody, divorce, or other Pennsylvania family law matters, reach out to the compassionate and talented Pittsburgh child custody attorneys at Bunde & Roberts, P.C. for advice and representation. Call our Pittsburgh child custody lawyer office today at 412-391-4330 for a consultation.