In Pennsylvania, the best interest of the child is the overriding consideration in child custody decisions. What courts consider to be the best interest is influenced by numerous legal factors and how a judge interprets those factors.
The formal legal process begins when a parent files a custody complaint. A custody action has to be filed in the state and county where your child has lived for the past six months. Before any scheduled court dates, some counties require both parents to come to court and attend a seminar that explains the court process and your responsibility to protect your child’s emotional health as you go through it.
The process determining child custody is decided based on a series of rules established at the county level. It’s wise to review your court’s website in the county where your child lives, call the courthouse or visit them in person to gain valuable information. In many counties, you will attend a mediation session with a court-appointed mediator. If you are unable to reach a mediated agreement, then you may move on to a hearing before a judge or another court employee with expertise in custody matters.
The court may order home studies or psychological evaluations of the parents and children. Once the court receives the report on these evaluations, it will hold a trial to determine the custodial arrangement that is in the best interests of the child.
Although Pennsylvania judges have discretion in interpreting the legal factors pertaining to child custody, they attempt to answer questions such as:
- Which parent is the primary caregiver?
- Is the parent psychologically and physically capable of raising the child?
- What is the quality of the relationships between the child and the parent, siblings, and others who may have access to the child?
- Is there a prior custody and visitation agreement?
- What is the child’s preference (depending on the child’s age and/or maturity)?
- Does the parent have a history of abusing or neglecting the child?
Courts tend to recommend some degree of shared child custody between parents, and they typically award sole custody only in extreme circumstances. Allowing a child access to both parents is usually considered the best option for the child’s physical, mental and emotional health and development. As a result, custody hearings usually concern each parent’s access to and responsibility toward the child.
As this process moves along, you are free at any time to settle your dispute with the other parent outside of court. As time marches on you may think settlement is less likely, but that’s not necessarily true. Many parents resolve their custodial differences when the trial is about to begin.
Wilder, Mahood, McKinley & Oglesby is among the most respected and longest-serving family law firms in the state. Our Pittsburgh child custody attorneys are experienced litigators who aggressively advocate for our clients in divorce trials and custody hearings. They are also highly capable negotiators who can employ effective negotiation and mediation techniques, when appropriate, to forge durable parenting plans.
We assist clients in child custody matters involving:
Parental custody: We help parents to assert their parental rights in court, as well as to reach workable parenting-time and time-sharing arrangements during out-of-court negotiations.
Child relocation: We represent parents and guardians in situations in which a co-parent intends to move out of the area, or the state, with a child. We can help you get the terms you need.
Enforcement of agreements: If a co-parent fails to observe the terms of a parenting agreement, such as by failing to return a child or obstructing access, we can help you to petition the court to enforce those terms.
Grandparents’ rights: When a child’s natural parent dies, becomes incapacitated, becomes divorced, or has demonstrated a lack of fitness through abuse or neglect, a grandparent or other relative may wish to secure visitation rights or to provide care for the child as a guardian or adoptive parent. We assist grandparents and other relatives in obtaining custody and visitation rights, as well as guardianships, through legal processes.
The attorneys of Wilder Mahood McKinley & Oglesby, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, have deep experience in child custody and visitation matters. Since 1978, we have assisted clients across western Pennsylvania in resolving family-related legal issues. Our founding partner, Joanne Ross Wilder, wrote the handbook used across the state by practitioners and judges in the family law arena. Our attorneys, Brian E. McKinley,Darren K. Oglesby and Bruce L. Wilder update the book annually to keep current with changes in the law and society.
Meet with our lawyers, and we can discuss your situation thoroughly and assess your options for seeking the degree of joint legal custody, physical custody and/or visitation that is best suited to you and your children. To learn more, contact us online or call our law firm at 412-261-4040.