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child custody Archives

Child's Opinion in Custody

Any custody award in Pennsylvania is to be based on the best interests of the child. Section 5328 of the Domestic Relations statue lays out 15 factors to be considered when awarding custody in addition to any relevant factor. One of enumerated factors is "the well-reasoned preference of the child, based on the child's maturity and judgment." Accordingly, there is no magic age at which a child is permitted to give their opinion on custody. Instead, the court weighs the child's opinion and generally gives it more weight as the child is older. Children mature at different paces and perhaps the weight to be given to a 10 year old's opinion could be greater than a 13 year old's opinion. I think it is safe to assume teenagers are able to give a reasoned preference, will be permitted to do so, and that opinion would carry some weight.

Improper Custody Relocation

23 PA C.S. 5337 is Pennsylvania's custody relocation statute which requires any party seeking to move with minor children to get court approval or the other parent's permission prior to the relocation. A relocation is defined as any move that would "significantly impair the ability of the nonrelocating party to exercise custodial rights." A move that is only a few miles away would not count as a relocation. Procedurally, the party intending to relocate must give at least 60 days' notice, or notice as soon as possible, of the intended move. The party would include a counter-affidavit with the notice which allows the non-moving party to designate their position. If the move is contested a hearing on whether or not the relocation should be granted should be held prior to the move. In addition to addressing the 16 factors as to what's in the child's best interests required in any custody case, the moving party must also address 10 relocation factors. The moving party has the burden of proof to show relocation will serve the best interests of the child(ren) and that there is no improper motive in seeking to move.

Custody Relocation

Parties should be aware of court requirements prior to moving with minor children. A local move may not require any additional steps to be taken other than just providing the new address to the other parent. If the move is of a significant distance and could impact the existing custody schedule additional steps must be taken prior to moving. Pennsylvania's custody relocation statute, 23 PA C.S. 5337, requires the party seeking relocation to get court approval or the other parent's permission prior to relocation. A relocation is defined as any move that would "significantly impair the ability of the nonrelocating party to exercise custodial rights." Procedurally, the party intending to relocate should give at least 60 days' notice or notice as soon as possible after they have knowledge of the relocation. A full hearing on the relocation should be held prior to the move if the relocation is contested. In addition to addressing the 16 factors to consider in any custody award, the moving party must also address the 10 relocation factors. The moving party has the burden of proof to show relocation will serve the best interests of the child(ren) and that there is no improper motive in seeking to move.

Steps for Custody Relocation

Section 5337 of the Domestic Relations statutes sets out the procedures and standards for relocation requests. All parties to a custody action are required to follow the procedures outlined in Section 5337 if they are moving to a distance which would make any existing custody arrangements difficult or impossible to follow. E.D. v. M.P., 2011 PA Super. 238, was one of the first cases to apply the new relocation law. In E.D. v. M.P., Mother appealed after the lower court granted Father's relocation on the grounds that Father didn't comply with the provisions of Sec. 5337.

Passports for Children

Every person, regardless of age, must have a passport to travel out of the country. Initial passport applications for children under sixteen (16) years of age must be made in person. Both parents of the child should be present. If one of the parents cannot be physically present, they may complete a parental consent form instead. This form must be notarized and a copy of the parent's ID must accompany the form. There are exceptions to the requirement of the consent of both parents including court order or proof of sole custody. Additionally, there is an application to obtain passport without the other parent on the basis of exigent circumstances and the unavailability of the other parent. You can visit the U.S. Department of State website for additional details on the requirements to obtain a passport at travel.state.gov.

Bringing Children to Court

One of the factors for consideration in determining what is in the best interests of the child for a custody award is the preference of the child. It is common for the opinion of the child to be sought in the course of a custody evaluation. There is also the possibility that a child will appear in court to offer testimony. There are rules specific to the testimony of children in Pennsylvania. The policy of the Commonwealth is to promote procedures to protect children witnesses. These procedures are outlined in 42 Pa C.S.A. 5981 - 5988. For the purposes of the provisions in these sections, child is defined as an individual under sixteen (16) years of age. Per Section 5984.1, the court may direct that a child's testimony be recorded for subsequent presentation in court so long as the method accurately captures all information presented during such testimony.

Criminal Background

Certain criminal charges are relevant in family law cases. Pennsylvania law requires parties to submit a criminal history verification in every custody proceedings. Under 23 Pa CS 5329, the court is to consider criminal convictions, not just official charges, when making a custody decision. Charges for the following crimes must be disclosed: homicide, aggravated assault, terroristic threats, stalking, kidnapping, unlawful restraint, false imprisonment, luring a child into a vehicle or structure, rape, sexual assault, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, indecent assault, indecent exposure, sexual intercourse with animal, sex offenders, arson, incest, concealing the death of a child, endangering welfare of children, dealing in infant children, prostitution, obscene sexual material or performances, unlawful contact with minor, sexual exploitation of children, driving under the influence, and manufacture/sale/delivery of controlled substances.

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.

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