Child Custody Law Changes

By Amy R. Stern, Esquire

Pennsylvania's new Child Custody Act, effective January, 2011, has greatly changed the way custody matters are being handled by the Courts.

Some of the most important changes include the consideration by the court of criminal convictions when a parent seeks any form of custody, specific relocation requirements, standing for grandparents in custody cases, and the enumeration of factors the court must consider when determining a child's best interests. These factors include the child's sibling relationships, the preference of the child, the attempts of one parent to turn the child against the other parent, any history of drug or alcohol abuse, and any other relevant factors.

The relocation requirements include not only factors the court must apply in determining whether relocation is in a child's best interests, but also certain notice requirements and forms that must be sent under specific deadlines. For instance, if notice of relocation is provided and the other parent fails to file an objection within 30 days, he or she will not be permitted to object to the relocation. Some of the relocation factors a court must consider include the child's preference, whether relocation will enhance the quality of life of the child, reasons for the relocation and bests interests of the child.

Additionally, the court must provide for an evaluation in the case of a criminal conviction to determine whether the offender poses a threat to the child before a custody order is entered. This also applies to household members of a parent seeking custody.

The court may also require parents to submit parenting plans and the new rules contain a form for this purpose.

Although there are many more things the court now has to look at in determining child custody, hopefully these rules will provide parents with more guidance prior to making important decisions regarding custody of their children.

An experienced family law attorney can help you to navigate the ins and outs of this new and involved custody law.