Child Custody Lawyer
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Kelly Family Law, PLLC – Chester County’s Premier Child Custody Lawyers
Whenever parents separate, they need to know their rights and responsibilities when it comes to their children. If the parties are married and going through a divorce, resolving child custody concerns can be the most difficult part of the process. A child custody lawyer can greatly assist in filtering information and help you make the right decisions for you and your child.
Every parent wants to see their children as much as possible, and the thought of losing time with them is distressing. However, the law recognizes that contact with the other parent is generally beneficial to the child as well. Coming up with a parenting plan that strikes the right balance requires patience, resilience, empathy, and realism.
Kelly Family Law, PLLC are family law attorneys who help parents navigate this difficult process. Drawing on more than 15 years of practice, I can help you put in place legally enforceable structures that protect your parental rights and advance the best interests of your children.
Physical Versus Legal Custody in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania law recognizes two separate types of child custody:
- Legal custody — The right to make important decisions impacting the child’s health and welfare
- Physical custody — The right to have the child reside with you and the related responsibilities for meeting the child’s physical needs.
Each type of custody can be shared (joint) or awarded to one parent (sole). In all but the most extreme cases, Chester County courts generally award parents shared legal custody. So, parents share the right to make major decisions affecting the health, welfare, education, and religion of their children.
Joint arrangements usually require discussion and consultation with the goal of obtaining a consensus. Courts tend to favor joint custody arrangements whenever appropriate.
Arriving at a Manageable Parenting Plan for Your Family
Cooperative parents are often able to negotiate or mediate a solution to their child custody issues by devising schedules for physical custody. There are several standard schedules parents frequently use, such as the “every other weekend” schedule. Here, one parent has the children Monday through Friday, and the other parent has them every other weekend, possibly from Friday evening through Monday morning.
Another popular example is a 2-2-3, which allows one parent to have the children every Monday and Tuesday, while the other always has them on Wednesdays and Thursdays, with parents alternating the weekends.
Of course, these are just examples. Many other schedules exist, and parents are free to devise their own. Often, the most contentious aspect of a custody case is the schedule for shared physical custody. Fathers are requesting (and frequently getting) more time with their children than they had in the past. Many are recognized as capable caregivers who can be just as important as mothers to the well-being of their children. However, the most important consideration is finding a schedule that works best for all concerned, including the children, and this always requires compromise. For this reason, it is imperative to consult an experienced attorney who can help you resolve the case without surrendering your rights and agreeing to a situation that does not best serve your children.
If you cannot resolve your differences, you must ask the court to rule, which puts you at risk of an adverse decision.
The Court’s Guiding Principle: the Best Interests of the Child
If you must ask the court to rule on your custody dispute, the law insists the court focus on whatever arrangement would be in “the best interests of the children.” Statutory factors the court must consider are:
- 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 childcare 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
If your child custody dispute must go to trial, I advocate strongly for your rights by bringing to the court’s attention all pertinent facts that present your side in the most favorable light possible.
Grandparents’ Visitation Rights in Pennsylvania
Following a divorce or the death of a parent, grandparents can have access to their grandchildren severely reduced or completely cut off. Fortunately, Pennsylvania law allows grandparents to seek a court order for visitation. Some circumstances under which a grandparent can seek visitation include:
- The child’s parent(s) is deceased.
- If their relationship with the child began either with the consent of a parent of the child or under a court order
- The child has resided with the grandparent for at least 12 months, in which case the action must be filed within six months after the removal of the child from the grandparents’ home.
There are other circumstances in which grandparents may seek visitation, or even custody of their grandchildren. If grandparents meet any of the necessary requirements to be pursue a custody action, the court will consider whether visitation, or custody is in the best interest of the child and decide the matter on that basis.
In extreme cases, where parents are unfit and a child is in danger of neglect or abuse, grandparents can request custody of the child. Kelly Family Law has experience representing grandparents who want to maintain their loving relationship with their grandchildren.
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