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Millions of people in the U.S. are step-parents, serving as parents to children with whom they do not share a biological connection. In Pennsylvania, step-parents are permitted to seek custody and visitation rights, provided they meet certain criteria and the arrangement is in the best interests of the child.
If you are a step-parent in Pennsylvania who wants to seek custody of your stepchild(ren), a qualified family law attorney can help you understand what your rights are. Additionally, they may even be able to provide services to assist you with the process of seeking custody rights through the court.
When Step-Parents Are Eligible to Seek Custody Rights
Except in rare circumstances, step-parents are not obligated to pay child support in Pennsylvania. However, the state’s laws do acknowledge the custodial and visitation rights of step-parents in many situations, including:
- The step-parent has acted in loco parentis, which means they are standing in the place of a parent and have served in this position for a significant length of time.
- The step-parent is actively involved in the child’s life and spends time with the child independently of the child’s biological parent.
- The child has an emotional attachment to the stepparent.
To be granted custody rights to a child, the courts will consider whether the above criteria are present. Additionally, the stepparent will be required to show that they are willing to be responsible for the child, as well as whether the proposed custody arrangement is in the child’s best interest.
How to Seek Custody Rights as a Step-Parent in Pennsylvania
When seeking custody rights of a stepchild, a common first step in the process is to hire a qualified family lawyer. A lawyer can evaluate the case to help step-parents understand if they are eligible for custody. They can also provide services, including helping the step-parent develop a parenting schedule to offer with their filing.
Custody cases in Pennsylvania are opened through the Court of Common Pleas in the county where the child has resided for the past six months. If the child recently was relocated to a different county, the stepparent can file in the county where they previously lived. Once the motion for custody has been filed, the other parent will be served, and a date for a hearing in court will be set. However, if the step-parent feels that the child is in immediate danger, they can request an expedited or emergency hearing on the matter.
While the step-parent is waiting for a custody determination to be made, they will often be required to attend parenting classes and many counties require both the biological and step-parent to attend mediation. At least 45 days after the case has been opened, the step-parent will be expected to attend a conciliation conference in order to determine whether both parties can agree to a parenting schedule and avoid taking the case to trial. If a parenting agreement cannot be reached between the parents during mediation or at the conciliation conference, the case will ultimately result in a trial so that a judge can make the determination about custodial rights.
Will the Child Have to Choose Who to Live With?
In many cases, if the child is of an appropriate age to testify on the matter, the judge may hear private testimony from the child as to where they want to live. However, in order to do so, the judge will ask whether both parents agree that allowing the child to testify is in their own best interests. Generally, the judge, the child, the child’s parents, and a court reporter are present for the testimony.
There are several other factors that are also considered when determining custody, including determining an arrangement that provides the child with the maximum amount of routine and stability. Additionally, the child’s relationship with others in the family, such as a relationship with a half-sibling or step-sibling, will come into play. The judge will ensure that neither parent has a past history of child abuse or domestic violence and will consider the physical and mental health of each parent seeking custody of the child.
How Is Custody Awarded in Pennsylvania?
In Pennsylvania, custody is awarded when a judge approves a parenting agreement, a trial on the matter has been held, or a deadline to respond to a recommended custody order passes. The judge will issue final orders that require the parents to follow a specific parenting plan and custody schedule that will remain in place until the child reaches 18 or one of the parents seeks and is granted a custody modification.
It should be noted, however, that if a parent objects to the court’s final orders, they can file an appeal to a higher court or make a motion to modify or cancel the court’s order. Pennsylvania law requires that the decision on custody be made without consideration of the gender of the parent or the child.
Call RGSG for Assistance in Seeking Step-Parent Custody or Visitation Rights in Pennsylvania
According to Smart Stepfamilies, an organization dedicated to empowering blended family couples, 40 percent of all married couples in the U.S. are step-couples, meaning that at least one of the partners has a child from a previous marriage. Step-parents commonly serve a valuable role in the lives of children. The Pennsylvania laws pertaining to child custody recognize this, as does the legal team from Rubin, Glickman, Steinberg & Gifford, P.C. Unfortunately, custody rights and other matters pertaining to children are not only some of the most emotional aspects of a divorce or separation but also among the issues that are hardest for parents to agree on.
Our team has over 65 years of experience in handling even the most challenging cases and a deep understanding of the impact that a custody arrangement can have on the relationships that family members have with one another. To learn more about seeking custody rights of your stepchildren and how we can help you in this process, contact us online or call (215) 822-7575.