Law & Legal & Attorney Children Law

About Pennsylvania Child Custody Laws

    Jurisdictional Issues

    • To determine custody, Pennsylvania courts must first have jurisdiction over the matter. In Pennsylvania, a court has the legal authority to hear a case in the home county where the child resides at the initiation of the proceeding or the county where the child lived six months prior to the proceeding (if the child is absent but a parent continues residence). If another court does not have jurisdiction, the court can make a determination if the child or one or both of the child's parents have significant ties to the state --- for example, they must live there, work there, and go to school there. A court in Pennsylvania can also have appropriate jurisdiction if a child is abandoned in the state, or is under threat of abuse or mistreatment. While the court prefers that the child reside in Pennsylvania, this is not necessary for them to make a custody determination.

    The Best Interest of the Child

    • Unlike many states, the statutes of Pennsylvania include no specific best interest standard, except to say that courts will apply it when making a custody determination. Typically, a court will consider specific factors, such as the mental and physical health of the parents and child; how well the child has adjusted to one home, school and community; the ability of each parent to see to the child's well-being; and in some cases, the desires of the child as to living arrangements, if the child is mature enough to express this information to the court.

    Types of Custody in Pennsylvania

    • Pennsylvania statute differs from most states with respect to legal terminology applied to custody issues ("joint custody" and "primary custody" are not used). Statute recognizes legal custody, which is the right of one or both parents to make major decisions for a child in matters such as education, health care and religious upbringing; and physical custody, which is the actual possession of a child by a parent.

      "Shared custody" is used in lieu of "joint custody" in Pennsylvania, and can refer to shared legal or physical custody (or both) of a child that ensures frequent physical contact with both parents. "Partial custody" is the right of one parent to take possession of the child from a custodial parent for a designated period of time. "Visitation" is the right of one parent to visit with a child; however, this right does not permit the parent to remove the child from the control of the custodial parent.

    Custody & Grandparents

    • The state of Pennsylvania does permit one or both grandparents to be awarded partial custody of a grandchild, or visitation rights, should one of the child's parents die. To receive custody, the child must have lived with the grandparent(s) for more than a year, and there must be no contention between the grandparent and the child's parent(s).

    Child Support

    • When it comes to child support in Pennsylvania, the combined net income of both parents is taken into consideration. Other factors that may be considered are how many children a parent is supporting and the ability of a parent to provide health insurance for the child. Child support typically lasts until the child turns 18; however, in some cases, it may be extended, if the child is disabled. Courts in Pennsylvania may, at their discretion, put a part of the parents' joint or separate assets in a trust fund for the child. As in other states, a child support order can be modified if circumstances drastically change, such as one parent receiving a significant increase in income.

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