Child Custody Lawyer
If you are an unmarried parent or are going through a divorce in PA, you have the difficult task of determining child custody. If you and spouse or child’s other parent work well together, you may be able to come up with a parenting plan that works for everyone. There may be no need to involve a judge other than to approve and formalize your arrangement. However, if you and your child’s mother or father do not get along or have different views of what is best for your child, then you will probably need to work with a custody lawyer and head to court for the opinion of a judge.
If you are facing a child custody battle, it is important to have an experienced New Bloomfield child custody attorney by your side. At Czekaj Law, LLC, our New Bloomfield lawyer is here to help you fight for what is best for your son or daughter. Call us today at (717) 275-9770 to schedule a free consultation with a family law attorney and learn more about Pennsylvania child custody laws.
Types of Child Custody
When seeking custody of your child, it is essential you understand there are two different types of custody: physical and legal.
- Physical custody encompasses the right to have your child live with you. During your periods of physical custody, you will be responsible for caring for your child and handling day-to-day decisions of their life.
- Legal custody is the right to be involved in the decision-making process regarding significant decisions in regard to your child, such as medical, educational, and religious decisions. This also involves the right to have access to records from schools, doctors, dentists, and others regarding your child.
Keep in mind, these types of custody are decided based on separate factors. A court can grant you legal custody without giving you physical custody of your child.
Child Custody Arrangements
There are multiple types of child custody arrangements a Pennsylvania judge can order, including:
- Sole Legal Custody: If one parent is given sole legal custody then that parent will be the sole decision-maker for the child with respect to things such as health care, education, religion, etc. The other parent may have periods of partial custody or visitation but will have no right to make significant or day-to-day decisions for the child. This situation is rare in Pennsylvania. However, a judge will order sole custody to one parent if it is in the child’s best interests.
- Sole Physical Custody: If one parent is given sole physical custody, that means the child will reside solely with that parent. In appropriate cases, one parent may be given sole legal and/or physical custody of a child.
- Shared Custody: This type of arrangement, also known a joint custody, is common. Each parent has some amount of physical and legal custody – though these are not necessarily divided evenly or similarly. One parent may have primary physical custody while the other parent has the child less than half the time. Or, the parents may divide physical custody 50/50. In the majority of cases, the parents share legal custody with each having the right to participate in the decision-making process regarding the minor child and to access records related to the child.
- Supervised Visitation: It is rare for a parent to not at least receive some amount of visitation. However, in appropriate situations where the court determines it is in the child’s best interest, a judge may order supervised visitation, which means a third-party must be present while the parent has the child, rather than deny visitation completely. This can occur in situations where the child’s safety is in question, such as when one parent has a substance abuse problem or there have been allegations of abuse or neglect.
Establishing Paternity and Fathers’ Custody Rights
Before establishing a child custody order, you must establish your child’s parentage. If you were married at the time of your child’s birth, then you were likely automatically added to the birth certificate. If you were not married at the time, then you or the child’s father had the choice to voluntarily acknowledge paternity. However, if there is a disagreement over paternity, you or your child’s other parent can petition the court to require a genetic test.
Once paternity is confirmed, a child’s father has the same rights in regard to child custody as the mother. There are no separate child custody laws in PA for fathers. If you are an unmarried father, do not let outdated advice or antiquated attitudes hold you back from seeking custody of your child. You have just as much of a right to raise your child as the mother.
How Pennsylvania Courts Determine Custody
Whether you are a mother or father, you need to be prepared for how a judge will decide custody. Pennsylvania statute 23 section 5328 lays out the factors judges must give weighted consideration to in determining which custody arrangement is appropriate, including:
- Which parent is more likely to permit and encourage contact between the child and other parent
- Any present or past abuse committed by a parent or another member of the parent’s household
- The parental duties performed by each parent
- The child’s need for stability and continuity in family, community, and education
- Availability of extended family
- The child’s sibling relationships
- The child’s well-reasoned preference, based on the child’s maturity and judgment
- The attempts of one parent to turn the child against the other parent
- Which parent is more likely to maintain a loving, stabling, consistent, and nurturing relationship with the child
- Which parent is more likely to attend to the child’s daily physical, emotional, developmental, educational, and special needs
- The proximity of the parents’ homes
- The parent’s availability to care for the child and make appropriate child-care arrangements
- The level of conflict between the parents and their willingness to cooperate
- A history of drug or alcohol abuse by a parent or a member of a parent’s household
- The physical and mental condition of parents or members of a parent’s household
Additionally, judges can review any other seemingly relevant factor. They are not limited to these 15 factors. A Pennsylvania custody lawyer with Czekaj Law, LLC can help you determine which factors apply to your case. We will guide you through the collection of necessary information to achieve your child custody goals.
Stepparents and Custody
A stepparent is an adult who is informally considered a parent of a child due to being married to one of the child’s legal parents. In this situation, a stepparent is neither the child’s biological nor legal parent. If you are a stepparent, the only right you have to make decisions for or take care of the child is by an extension of the lawful parent’s right to do so. You do not independently have rights to physical or legal custody of the child. To gain these rights, you would need to formally adopt your stepchild.
This can make matters particularly difficult and traumatic if your marriage to the child’s mother or father fails. You usually do not have the right to seek custody of or visitation with the child. However, there is an exception. Under the theory of “in loco parentis,” which means in place of a parent, you may be able to prove that you acted as a parent to the child for a meaningful period of time and request the court to allow you to continue a relationship with them.
If you are a stepparent and you want to obtain custody of your stepchild, contact us right away. You should address the custody issue as soon as possible. The longer you wait to petition for custody and allow your stepchild to live only with their lawful parent, the more difficult it may be to prove in loco parentis.
Same-Sex Couples and Custody
If you identify as a member of the LGBTQ community or were part of a same-sex marriage, then you may now face significant legal hurdles during a child custody battle. Children of same-sex couples are often biologically related to only one parent or your child may not be biologically related to either of you. This area of law has undergone recent significant changes and continues to evolve. It is important that you hire an experienced child custody attorney to represent your interests and to ensure that your rights are protected to the fullest extent of the law. If you are facing this situation, please contact the experienced child custody attorney at Czekaj Law, LLC so we can discuss your particular situation.
Custody Laws in PA for Unmarried Parents
When parents are married, paternity is assumed and custody rights apply to both spouses. However, if you are not married to your child’s other parent, you may have to establish paternity and fight for custody rights as unmarried parents. Establishing paternity may require a genetic test or an acknowledgment from both parents of the child. Once the court recognizes both parents, custody laws apply to them equally. You have the same rights to physical and legal custody as the other parent, even if you are unmarried.
Hire a Child Custody Lawyer in PA Who Knows Your Local Courts
Every Pennsylvania county has its own procedures for child custody cases. You need an attorney who knows their way around your local courts and what to expect from the local family court judges. This ensures you receive accurate guidance throughout the entire child custody process.
If you or your child lives in Perry County, Juniata County, or the surrounding areas, contact the experienced and proven child custody lawyer of Czekaj Law, LLC at (717) 275-9770 . We understand how stressful and emotional a child custody battle can become. We will help you through this difficult time and fight for the best possible outcome for you and your child.