If you are one of the many families who are facing custody issues and you find that your ex has file a petition for custody or a petition to modify your current order, you should consider filing a counterclaim for custody. While it is true that you do not have to file an answer or a counterclaim in order for the court to decide a schedule, what happens if your ex suddenly withdraws their petition the day of the hearing? If you do not have a counterclaim filed, then the Court will cancel the hearing since there will be no petition to hear. While this is fine if you do not want a change, it may not be so great if you were expecting to raise issues on why you need an order or why you want a change, this is not such good news. In order to prevent this from happening, you should always file a counterclaim on custody. That way, if your ex does decide to withdraw the petition filed, the Court will have to hear the case unless you also withdraw your petition.
International parental kidnapping occurs when a child is removed from the United States with the purpose of interfering with the other parent's custodial rights. The federal law governing this issue, 18 U.S.C. §1204, defines child as a minor less than sixteen (16) years old and specifies that parental rights includes any custody rights (sole, joint, visitation) whether existing by court order, prior agreement or operation of law. There are affirmative defenses under the law which would consider if removal is pursuant to a court order, for the purpose of escaping domestic violence, or of a temporary emergency nature. Sanctions for parents found to be guilty of international kidnapping include imprisonment for up to three years.
The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) clarified an uniform approach to dealing with child custody matters nationwide. Since its inception in 1997, 49 states as well as the District of Columbia have adopted the Act. One of the goals achieved through the UCCJEA is clear guidance on who should exercise jurisdiction over a custody matter. 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 should 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.
Many custody orders will provide whether the parties are entitled to vacation time with the children in addition to their regularly scheduled time as well as any relevant notice provisions. A standard provision includes at least thirty days advance notice to the other parent and all details of the itinerary/contact information for the children while away. Parties may want to consider going into additional detail about any restraints on travel, particularly out of state or out of country. It's good practice to provide that international travel may only be by written consent of both parties or court order. Parties should pay attention to which country the other parent intends to travel to and whether that country belongs to the Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction and would recognize a U.S. custody order if necessary.
Vacations are a staple of the summer season and you want to make sure your children are able to enjoy vacation with you. A vacation schedule can be included as part of a custody order to alleviate any confusion or disagreement. Standard provisions specify how many weeks of vacation each party is entitled to per year, how the weeks may be exercised, what type of notice should be given, and what additional information should be provided. A sample vacation schedule paragraph is below:
Each party shall have two non-consecutive weeks of vacation each year with thirty days advance written notice to the other parent. If there is a conflict on vacation where both parties plan the same week, the party who gives written notice first shall be entitled to the week. Written notice may be via email or text message. The parties agree that they will each exercise their vacation week to include their regular scheduled time so as not to unnecessarily disrupt the regular custody schedule.
Under Pennsylvania law, specifically 23 Pa. C.S. 3104(b), one of the parties to the divorce action must have been a bona fide resident of Pennsylvania for at least six months prior to the commencement of the divorce. Bona fide residence is defined as actual residence with domiciliary intent. Domicile denotes the place where a person has his or her true, fixed, permanent home with the intention of returning after any absence. In other words, where an individual sleeps, takes her meals, receives mail, and stores personal possession. Members of the military are considered to be residents of their home state even if they are stationed elsewhere at the time a divorce is commenced. The home state would be the state where they intend to return to and reside in following any term of active duty.
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.
A guardian ad litem (GAL) is an attorney the court appoints to represent the best interests, and often times the legal interests, of a child in a court proceeding. Once appointed, the GAL should participate in all future proceedings as necessary to continue to ensure the child's interest. By law, the GAL is mandated to meet with the child as soon as possible following appointment. Additionally, the GAL should review all the relevant records related to the case and conduct further investigation as deemed necessary. Further investigation may include speaking with the child's parents and/or guardians as well as interviewing other potential witnesses.
Chester County has just approved a number of changes to their local rules regarding custody matters. For all custody orders, it must be stated within the order that neither party will relocate with minor children without proper consent or court approval as required under Section 5337. For all initial complaints for custody or petitions for modification, the criminal history affidavit must be included. The non-moving party should file their criminal history affidavit within 10 days following service. After filing of the complaint or modification petition, the parties must attend an approved parenting class and provide proof of their attendance. Presently, the court approved parenting program is "Children in Between." In some instances, the parties may also be ordered to attend a mediation session.
A number of changes to the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure regarding custody took place this summer. One change, Rule 1915.4-4, provides the opportunity for a pre-trial conference in a custody matter. Either party may request the conference by written request in the form of a praecipe. Alternatively, the court can schedule one on its own motion. The timing of the pre-trial conference is after the parties have made their initial appearance at a custody conference but prior to the hearing scheduled before a Judge. The Rule provides the pre-trial conference should be scheduled at least 30 days prior to the start of a custody hearing. The Judge will preside over the pre-trial conference in chambers if both parties are represented.