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child custody Archives

Counseling for Children

Counseling may be a useful resource for children dealing with changes in family status due to divorce or separation. It can serve as a safe place for children to discuss and process their feelings. It is not uncommon for children to be reluctant to discuss their feelings with their parents. Both parents will need to agree to counseling unless one parent has sole legal custody. A parent can petition the court for an Order regarding counseling if they believe it is necessary and they are unable to get the other parent's consent.

Steps to take before moving with children

In a custody matter, court approval or permission of the parent is required prior to a relocation. A relocation is defined as any move that will substantially interfere with the custodial rights of the other parent. The specific details of your existing custody schedule are relevant in determining if any contemplated move would cause a substantial interference. Moving to a different school district is not necessarily a relocation though it triggers legal custody issues. Similarly, moving to a different state may not necessarily count as a relocation. 23 Pa CS 5337 lays out the specific procedures to be followed in the event of a proposed relocation which will interrupt the existing arrangements. First, the party seeking relocation should give 60 days notice to the other parent by certified mail, return receipt requested. If not possible to give 60 days notice, notice should be given within 10 days of becoming aware of the relocation.

Holiday Schedules

As the holiday season approaches it is a good time to figure out where children will spend the holidays if you are separated or divorced. A good custody order will include a holiday schedule. Frequently seen provisions include alternating holidays so that one parent has a holiday in even years while the other parent has it in odd years. Another option is splitting the holidays so that each party has a certain time allotted on the holiday itself. This works best if the parties are in close proximity to each other to minimize travel time on the holiday. There could be a holiday schedule which provides for the parties to always have the same holidays every year. In some instances, a custody order may simply state that holidays will be shared as mutually agreed upon by the parties without specifics. This is only recommended if you have a good relationship with the other parent to avoid arguments or stressful last-minute negotiations.

Jurisdiction for Custody

Pennsylvania abides by the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) in terms of determining where a custody case should be handled. The preferred method for establishing jurisdiction is based on the home state of the child. The homes state is defined as the state where the child had been living for at least six (6) months prior to the custody action or since birth if the child is less than six months old. If jurisdiction is not clear based on an analysis of the home state, the courts then look to see where there are significant connections and substantial evidence relevant to the custody action. Significant connections is more than just mere presence in any state.

Asking for Custody if you are not a Parent

Parties other than parents and grandparents may be able to file for custody. Section 5324 of the Pennsylvania Domestic Relations laws discusses who has standing to file for legal and physical custody. First, a person who stands in loco parentis may file for custody. In loco parentis status means you are acting as a parent even though there isn't the biological connection. It has been defined as an assumption of parental status as well as an actual discharge of parental duties giving rise to a relationship which is the same as between a natural parent and child. This requires more than just a frequent care-taker role.

Custody and Domestic Violence

Emotions run high in any child custody discussion.  When you are fighting with your soon-to-be-ex, in person or through your attorneys, that arguing adds extra pressure to the process.  When violence and abuse are already present in the relationship, there is added urgency along with a fear of you or your children being victimized.  

How to Change Your Custody Agreement/Parenting Time

If you have children and are getting divorced, you will negotiate a parenting time schedule, typically called a custody agreement. This dictates the amount of time that each child will spend with each parent. It can include overnights, holidays, and special arrangements like pick-ups and birthdays. If you are divorcing with younger children, your schedule will more than likely need to be adjusted in the future to accommodate different schedules.  If you have already been divorced for a few years, you may be concerned that your custody agreement is no longer working. After all, your schedule, as well as the activity schedules of your children, have probably changed over time.  

Your Teen and Your Divorce

All children process divorce differently and your teen will be no different.  They may be relieved if you and your spouse were constantly fighting or unhappy that mom and dad are no longer together.  They may experience a variety of emotions that they are unsure how to handle.  

Changes to NJ Custody Relocation Laws

If you are seeking to move to a distance that makes your current custody schedule difficult or impossible to follow it classifies as a relocation. In the event of a move that does classify as a relocation the party looking to move should obtain the written consent of the other parent or court approval. Previously, New Jersey courts primarily focused on if there would be any harm to the child in allowing the move. In a recent decision (Bisbing v. Bisbing) the New Jersey courts have shifted their focus to considering if the move is in the child's best interests. This standard puts the burden on the party looking to relocate to demonstrate how it benefits the child. It also allows for a better look at how the move affects both parents.

Hague Convention Implications

Enforcement of an international custody order is addressed by the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. Signatories to the Hague Convention are required to immediately return children if taken or retained in violation of a custody order. All countries who are parties to the Hague Convention must establish a "Central Authority." This office is responsible for dealing with any Hague Convention violations. For children removed from the United States, a petition for return should be filed through the U.S. State Department, Office of Children's Issues. From there, the petition is transmitted to the Central Authority for the other country involved and ultimately adjudicated there. It is important to begin the process as soon as a violation occurs for the best likelihood of having the child returned.

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