PA: New Pennsylvania Child Custody Laws in Effect

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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.

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  1. [...] is our hope that the bill also contains language similar to the recent passe Pennsylvania child custody law that also requires that family court judges state (or otherwise document) in the official record [...]

  2. That is a great news! I have just read another blog about changes of the child custody law. I really agree with this bill. It thinks more of the children’s welfare.

  3. I DO NOT AGREE. I went to Mediation today to be told the only reason I will not get my child and not be able to have visitation with my child because my boyfriend of 3 years had a DUI over twenty years ago. I an a great mother who loves her children and have devoted my life to them. ( I am lucky enough to be a stay at home mom). I have three children and am now going to lose my youngest because of something that happened twenty years ago. Where is the understanding that as we age we GROW UP. He learned his lesson and hasn’t had anything on his record since. One time mistake when he was twenty one and now I may lose custody or tell him to move out. Two years ago, the same judge gave custody of my 15 yr old to his father six months after he got out of prison. I think the court needs to concentrate on sex offenders and stop penalizing single parents. I also would love to know who in our wonderful system of checks and balances, who is checking these commonwealth judges to make sure they are interpreting the law correctly and fairly. Furthermore, when both parents have a DUI, I found out they are taking these children and placing them in foster care till certain qualifications can be met, which could take months. How is this in the best interset of ANY child. I believe they had the best of intentions when writing this law, but they sure could have left out the DUI section. Who is gonna help me and my child? Who is going to tell my daughter that she’s not allowed to see me cuz Ralph got a DUI twenty years ago before she was ever thought of. GIMME A BREAK

  4. This is in reference to Jen. I have a felony and for my wife to be able to have them overnight, I had did an evalution 3503. Now were going for full custody, since I did that we are able to. It cost us about 725.00.

  5. I agree with Jennifer Zimmer, and if that is the case then why does my ex still have visitation rights for he lost his job and his license for a DUI. And this was just April 2010, We had been in and out of court with this custody.

  6. I agree with the law but the blanket DUI is a bit ridiculous. There should be some provision where if someone has a DUI over lets say 10 years ago they should not be penalized, if they did not have children at the time. I think if you have children and you get a DUI then yes this law is great. Who in their right mind, especially after you have children, thinks of drinking and getting behind a wheel of a car? There is a measure of responsibility that needs to be put in place. However, when a person’s DUI is so old and never having any other conviction it is a bit ridiculous.
    Jen: Have your boyfriend look into expungement. Many times you can get it expunged if you went through ARD or if it’s over 10 years old with no other conviction. Check with Legal Aid. They can help you.
    My husband has been trying to get his kids for 5 years and the legal system clearly favored the mother even though she admitted to drug and alcohol issues. The court decided that that was not a bad thing for the kids since she did not have a conviction. Then earlier this year we went in for a mod. and she claimed to be clean and clear yada yada…She just got a DUI. It’s her first one but let’s be honest she admitted to a drug and alcohol problem..So hopefully this will end our 5 year battle to get a safe and stable environment for these kids.

  7. just had a general question…I have a court agreement where I’m the custodial parent…I have since moved to another county inside PA (same state) and was wondering if I need to go through this again or does the old agreement stick in the new county?? ANY help is appreciated!!!

  8. If a parent has custody every tuesday from 4 pm til friday at 8 am. This parent does not live in the school district where kids attend. He lives about 20 miles away. Is it his responsibility to drive them to school daily as well as pick them up? The mother works full time and supports all the kids totally. Her work schedule has been arranges so she can take care of them fully on the days she has them. m-t-thurs-fri eve-sat-sun. He works when he wants to and does not have a daily starting time.

  9. She is heavy smoker; did hardly any housework, cooking, laundry, shopping, taxi, etc.for 20 yrs.; Left her husband a house of filth; took 15 year old daughter and her 3 small dogs. Left her 21 year old son (adopted by this husband) with his adoptive father. Now wants a big increase in child’s monthly payment. She works and makes a decent wage. Instead of renting, bought a house because of keeping the dogs. Husband providing home and conveniences for son with no support from his mother. Lived in house for last three months when their agreement stated she would leave on date of agreement May 26, 2012 but ‘freely’ and no sharing of expenses of any kind she stayed, smoked, read and packed nearly everything in the house to go with her leaving only a living room outfit and table and 4 chairs, some dishes and the washer. Is there any rule to take such things into consideration when an x-wife treats her husband worse than the dogs, not to mention the neglect she gave her two children and now feels the daughter should be raised under her roof?

  10. this bill is a joke. no way to enforce it. judges are still taking sides. siding with the mother, especially in cases where she is on welfare. if the father is given more time, that is less child support he pays and less welfare for the mother meaning less money the state is making. its all about money, not what is best for the child. fathers will never get their children because they could care less about child support. they dont want it. they want their kids. but the kids are cash cows in the courts and mothers eyes. take away incentives that people have for getting custody. then you will see how many mothers really want their children