Child Custody FAQs

What if I want to change my residence? Must I notify the other party and obtain court permission?

If you plan to move to a new residence that does not make the current custody arrangement impractical, you usually do not have to obtain court approval. However, once you have decided to move to a location that significantly impairs the ability of the other parent to exercise custodial rights, your child may relocate with you only if the other parent and any other person who has custody rights to the child consents to the proposed relocation or the court approves the proposed relocation.

If you already have a custody order in place, please refer to that as well, since custody orders typically contain language regarding relocation. There is a specific statutory mandate regarding relocation and notice.

You should discuss the intended move with your attorney to ensure that you provide all of the information in the notice that is required by the statute. Among other information, the notice must include a proposal for a revised custody schedule and a counter affidavit for the non-relocating person to file with the court indicating consent or objection to the move and consent or disagreement to the proposed custody schedule.

Who can file for physical or legal custody?

In order to file for physical or legal custody, a person must have standing. This is defined by the statute. A parent of the child always has standing to file an action for any form of physical or legal custody, unless the parent's rights have been terminated. A person who stands in loco parentis to the child also may file. In loco parentis means in place of parent. To be in loco parentis, the individual must have carried out the responsibilities for the child and the relationship had to begin with the consent of the parent. Grandparents may also petition for custody under certain circumstances.

Does the court give priority to the mother in a custody dispute?

In any custody case between parents, there is no presumption that custody should be awarded to a particular parent.

How does a judge decide who should have custody of a child?

In deciding who should have primary physical custody of a child, the judge must determine the "best interest of the child" and must consider all relevant factors. You can review the list of factors included in the custody statute at http://www.womenslaw.org/statutes_detail.php?statute_id=5376.
Note that the last item in the list states "any other relevant factor."

What should the court consider in deciding if grandparents or great-grandparents should have partial physical custody or supervised physical custody?

Grandparents and great-grandparents must have standing to do so. As a general matter, standing will exist where the parent who is the child of the grandparents seeking custody has died, is incarcerated or has been deemed incapable of caring for the child; or the grandparents have been primary caretakers for the child, and the child was suddenly removed by one or both parents.

In ordering partial physical custody or supervised physical custody to grandparents or great-grandparents, the court must consider whether the award interferes with any parent-child relationship, whether it is in the best interest of the child, and in some situations, the amount of personal contact between the child and the party prior to filing of the action.

Does the court consider criminal charges or convictions of myself or my new partner when awarding custody?

The court must consider certain charges and convictions in awarding custody to determine that you or someone else in your household does not pose a threat of harm to the child. These can be found in the Pennsylvania custody statute at 23 Pa.C.S. Section 5329.

Does the court consider the preference of my child when making a custody decision?

The court will take the preference of a child into consideration, but this is only one factor that the judge will consider. The preference of a very young child will most likely be given little weight, but the preference of a 16-year old will be given much greater weight. The court will consider the reasonableness of the child's preference and whether it appears that the preference is that of the child and not a request influenced by a parent.