The Service Members Civil Relief Act (SCRA) was signed into law by President Bush in 2003. It was an overhaul of the SSCRA which had been law since 1940. The main purpose of the SCRA is to protect service members from civil lawsuits while they are on active duty and unable to adequately defend themselves. The protections of the SCRA, accordingly, apply to family law matters such as divorce, custody and support. Divorce complaints must either include a statement that neither party is a service member on active duty or be accompanied by an affidavit of non-military service. The service member has the right to waive their protection under the SCRA and still proceed if they desire to. Any waiver of rights under the SCRA must be in writing.
Some states routinely include a morality clause as part of a divorce case. A morality clause would prevent the parties from doing certain things following separation. In family law, the clause usually prevents either party from having a new partner stay overnight while minor children of the former marriage are present. Texas is one of the states that still routinely uses morality clauses in divorce actions. A recent decision in Collin County, Texas upheld a morality clause from a 2011 divorce ordering that the wife's new partner vacate the home where two children from the marriage resided.
In a custody matter, court approval or permission of the parent is required prior to a relocation. A relocation would be any move that substantially interferes with the custodial rights of the other parent. 23 Pa CS 5337 lays out the specific procedures to be followed in the event of a proposed relocation. 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. The notice of relocation should include as much information as possible regarding the new address including names and ages of individuals who will be residing there, home telephone number, name of new school district and school, and date of proposed relocation. A counter-affidavit should also be supplied with the notice giving the other party the opportunity to object to the relocation.
The Court Conciliation and Evaluation Service, or CCES for short, is a program in Bucks County that conducts custody evaluations for pending court cases. Parties to a custody matter would participate in a series of sessions with an assigned evaluator. The goal of the program is to facilitate an ideal co-parenting relationship that provides for the best interests of the child(ren) involved. The end result of the program is either an agreement on custody or a full clinical report including a recommendation which is then provided to the court. In addition to the parents and the children, additional parties can be interviewed as part of the CCES process based on their role in the parties' lives or unique insight they may be able to provide. On average, it takes 6-8 weeks for the process to be completed with the report due to the court within 45 days of the final session. An expedited evaluation which is completed in a matter of days is possible only in emergency situations or when one or both of the parties live out-of-state.
Pennsylvania has some of the best protections nationwide in the instance of mothers who opt to have a child following a rape. First, there is the potential that the rights of the natural father/perpetrator of the rape can be terminated. Pursuant to 23 Pa CS 2511(a), which lays out the grounds on which a parent's rights can be involuntarily terminated, paragraph (7) provides for termination where "the parent is the father of a child conceived as a result of rape or incest." While it is a plus that the law specifically allows termination of parental rights in a rape case, a party petitioning for involuntary termination will still need someone willing to adopt the child simultaneously with the termination which may cause a dilemma.
Parties are often encouraged to try to reach an agreement to resolve whatever issues have arisen in any legal matter. In family law, agreements are especially encouraged due to the personal nature of the issues at hand along with the belief that it is better for the parties to draft their own agreement rather than allow a stranger to dictate their family dynamics going forward. Most agreements in family law will be treated as any contract would and the parties will be obligated to comply with the provisions or face an action for contempt. The family court will retain jurisdiction over all agreements entered that are subsequently submitted to the court to be made an order. As with any contract the court is generally only concerned that the agreement was entered into voluntarily and knowingly. The court will not necessarily be reviewing the content of the agreement before allowing it to become an order of court.
Reunification counseling is a process meant to rebuild a relationship. Often times, reunification counseling will be used in the context of a custody dispute to reintroduce and/or reinforce the relationship between a parent and their child. There are several reasons why reunification counseling may become necessary. It could be a situation where one parent was not involved in the child's life for a long period of time and so some type of counseling becomes helpful in assisting both parties ease back into a normal relationship. Alternatively, a course of reunification counseling can be used after a sudden change in relationship has caused damage or anger. For example, a child may not understand why his or her parents have separated and may show anger or resentment towards the parent who moved out of the home. Or perhaps, it is not even the child initiating the feelings of resentment or anger, but the other parent who then projects those same feelings onto the child.
In the midst of the holiday season, it may become necessary to consider where children will spend the holidays if they have separated or divorcing parents. A holiday schedule can be included as part of a custody order. Frequently seen provisions include alternating holidays so that one party has even years the other has odds or splitting the holidays so that each party has a certain time allotted on the holiday itself. Ultimately, it is up to the parents and/or guardians in any given case to make a schedule that works best for them. It may be a schedule where the parties will always have the same holidays every year and won't alternate or share. In some instances, a custody order may state that holidays will be shared as mutually agreed upon by the parties without the need to lay out specifics. There may be unique family traditions that don't occur on the actual holiday that a party will want the kids to be involved in.
Most family law actions that will be filed include a filing fee for the initial complaint or pleading. A part of these filing fees go to fund the Pennsylvania Children's Trust Fund (CTF). This fund has received approximately $40 million dollars from family law filing fees since inception. The initiative of the CTF is to prevent child abuse and neglect across the state. The main emphasis of CTF is to put prevention programs in place to decrease child abuse and neglect overall. The CTF grants its money to local community programs with the same initiatives. It is up to the respective community programs to apply with CTF to see if they are eligible for a grant. Currently, upwards of 250 community based programs across the state have received grants to aid in the fight against child abuse and neglect.
Custody refers to the rights of a parent or other adult to be responsible for a minor. In family law there are several types of custody that may come into play. Sec 5322 defines all the different variations of custody. First, there is legal custody versus physical custody. Legal custody is defined as "the right to make major decisions on behalf of the child, including but not limited to, medical, religious and educational decisions." As it relates to legal custody, it can either be shared between the parents or other responsible parties meaning they have to consult with one another and agree on the major decisions or one parent/party can have sole legal custody and make any decision on their own.