Child Custody Attorney West Chester, PA
Attorney Wesley Legg has helped countless Pennsylvania and Chester County residents navigate the high emotion and high stakes of child custody. This area of family law is unlike any other, because it profoundly affects parents' relationships with their children. Wesley always tries to prevent unnecessary conflict between parties wherever possible, instead focusing their energy and skill on the question: “What is in the best interests of the children?” Focusing on the children can give perspective in an otherwise tumultuous time.
Physical and Legal Child Custody in Pennsylvania
In 2011, the Pennsylvania Legislature overhauled the Child Custody Laws. One major change is that it is now required under the statute to give notice to the other parent before you relocate to another county, another state, or another country. This notice it must follow the statute’s specific requirements for the notice. After receiving notice, if the other parent agrees, then the moving party may relocate without consequence under the law. If the other parent does not consent to relocation, the matter will be litigated through the courts. The questions are whether the moving party may relocate with the child(ren) and whether the relocation is in the children’s best interest. In this day and age, the global economy has made it almost a necessity for people to travel the globe to find work and support their families. Relocation disputes have become more common. The Law Office Wesley W. Legg is prepared to assist you in your potential relocation.
Under the statute, Child Custody is separated into two distinct areas: 1) legal custody and 2) physical custody. Physical custody is actually who physically has possession of the child at a specific time. There are various types of Physical Custody, for example:
- Shared (joint) Physical Custody or half of the time the child is with one or the other parent
- Primary Physical Custody or that one parent has more that 50 parent of the time with the child
- Partial Physical Custody or a parent that has physical custody less than 50 percent of the time.
- Sole Physical Custody or one parent only has physical custody of the children.
Legal custody is defined by statute as the right to make major life decisions about the education, health and religious instruction for your children. Shared (joint) legal custody is the most common arrangement for parents. In a situation where one parent has primary physical custody and both parents have shared (joint) legal custody then both parents share in making important decisions for their children no matter who physically has the children.
When the parents share legal and physical custody then generally the parents live close to one another and continue a beneficial relationship for the children.
When one parent has sole custody, then they have sole legal and physical custody of the child. This award of custody is a rare occurrence because the courts recognize the important contributions of both parents to the child’s development.
How is child custody decided by the court or by the parties?
Parents in Pennsylvania can determine how they will share in the parental duties between one another by agreement; or when an agreement cannot be reached they can look to the courts for guidance and a decision.
If you are contemplating settling your dispute out of court or looking to getting the “custody agreement” in writing – that agreement whether reached between the parties on their own or though attorneys, arbitration, or mediation should be filed with the court. If the agreement is filed with the court then the parties’ rights will be protected in the event that one parent does not live up to the terms of the agreement.
When a court is charged with the task of deciding of what the child custody arrangement will be, the court must adhere to the standard – what is in the best interests of a child? How are the best interests of a child determined? The court must look to sixteen (16) factors (not an all inclusive list):
- Which party is more likely to encourage and permit frequent and continuing contact between the child and another party.
- The present and past abuse committed by a party or member of the party's household, whether there is a continued risk of harm to the child or an abused party and which party can better provide adequate physical safeguards and supervision of the child.
- The parental duties performed by each party on behalf of the child.
- The need for stability and continuity in the child's education, family life and community life.
- The availability of extended family.
- The child's sibling relationships.
- The well-reasoned preference of the child, based on the child's maturity and judgment.
- The attempts of a parent to turn the child against the other parent, except in cases of domestic violence where reasonable safety measures are necessary to protect the child from harm.
- Which party is more likely to maintain a loving, stable, consistent and nurturing relationship with the child adequate for the child's emotional needs.
- Which party is more likely to attend to the daily physical, emotional, developmental, educational and special needs of the child.
- The proximity of the residences of the parties.
- Each party's availability to care for the child or ability to make appropriate child-care arrangements.
- The level of conflict between the parties and the willingness and ability of the parties to cooperate with one another. A party's effort to protect a child from abuse by another party is not evidence of unwillingness or inability to cooperate with that party.
- The history of drug or alcohol abuse of a party or member of a party's household.
- The mental and physical condition of a party or member of a party's household.
- Any other relevant factor.
When the parties ask the court to determine the child custody dispute, the court’s must protect the child's best interests. This does not mean the child gets to decide with whom they will reside. That factor is not determinative on its own. Generally, all custody orders are modifiable, as the child’s life and needs change, the parents may file a modification based upon those changes.
How can living with my significant other affect my custodial rights?
Under the drastic changes to the custody laws in 2011, it is now required that all parties involved in a custody action file a crimes affidavit. This affidavit must be filled out for the parties of the action and any person living in the household with the children. The court will consider whether any member of your household is a danger to the child or has been convicted, plead guilty or no contest to over 30 offenses, including but not limited to:
- Sexual Assault
- Criminal Homicide (murder)
- Aggravated Assault
- Driving under the influence (DUI)/Driving while intoxicated (DWI)
- Violation of a Protection from Abuse order (PFA)
- And many others.
The children's welfare and happiness are the main concerns of the court when making custody decisions, and a court must take into account any adverse effects a child's present or past living conditions may have had on the child's physical, mental, moral, or emotional health.
The custody and well-being of your child is of the utmost importance to you. You should have an attorney with the experience and determination to protect your relationship with your child. Contact the Law Office Wesley W. Legg, Esquire today at (484) 401-7079 or via our online contact form to set up a consultation regarding your family law issue. Wesley W. Legg represents clients living in Chester, Montgomery and Delaware Counties.