In a follow-up to our post Pennsylvania House of Representatives Approves Child Custody System Changes, we are please to update you with the news that the bill has official become child custody law in Pennsylvania.

More than 10-years in coming, the new child custody legislation reforms are designed to make current and be more in keeping with fair-mindedness in Pennsylvania Family Court.  From the article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Montgomery County Common Pleas Judge Emanuel A. Bertin, chair of the Joint State Government Commission’s advisory committee on domestic relations law, said the changes to the state’s custody law were drafted by the committee more than a decade ago.

It was originally drafted by State Senator Stewart Greenleaf and only recently landed on the desk of outgoing Governor Ed Rendell, who signed it. It was the interest in changing the custody laws by Democratic State Representative, Kathy Mandarino.

While disappointing that the updated custody laws go into effect this month for all new custody actions (the old laws shall still apply to cases previously filed and already in the system), it is a tremendous step in the right direction.  The new law includes some powerful requirements on 16 points that must be considered when making a determination for child custody.

Some highlights:

  • Family Court Judges are required to document within their ruling the reasons justifying their final decision.  Previously, there was no requirement for judges to do so and, very often, they simply made a ruling and banged the gavel.  Parents left family court feeling cheated out of a clear understanding of why they were ruled against.
  • The law includes a rebuttable presumption that parents be awarded custody – a tremendous step forward towards potential shared parenting if the law is applied fairly.
  • The law requires gender-neutral application.  While this has always been an expectation, statistics and experiences don’t always demonstrate that to be the case.  Time will tell whether actual language requiring gender neutrality within the law will be applied accordingly.
  • Advanced notice of a parent’s relocation with children is required where previously it was not, unless explicitly documented within your child custody order.  Pro-se litigants must file a counter-petition to object to the relocation within 30-days of notification.

These are a few of the new requirements of the Pennsylvania child custody laws.

Our only wish is that some of these and the others not documented herein, were applicable to existing litigants.  Issues such as strong emphasis on substance abuse and the criminal history of other members of a potential custodial parent’s household are issues by which previous cases won’t be offered the same consideration.

In any event, this is a strong step towards equal treatment under the law as it is written for both fathers and mothers.  Time will tell if firmly entrenched family court judges will adapt quickly to such changes.  So many pro se litigants will be unable to make appropriate arguments in a proper fashion if they’re not.