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The Pennsylvania Legislature, after over 10 years of consideration, passed House Bill 1639, making sweeping changes in the Child Custody Law in Pennsylvania. This new statute is effective January 24, 2011. Highlights of the changes are as follows:
1. VISITATION: The word “Visitation” has been removed from the statute. Both Judges and Lawyers routinely utilized this term incorrectly and it caused a great deal of confusion. The words “Supervised Physical Custody” have been substituted for the term “visitation”, in order to clarify this terminology.
2. PHYSICAL SEPARATION: For the first time in Pennsylvania, a Custody Order can now be negotiated, agreed to and filed with the Court prior to the time when the parents have physically separated. This Custody Order will not be effective, however, until the parties physically separate. The purpose of this change is to attempt to reduce the number and frequency of child snatching by having parents agree on a Parenting Plan before separating.
3. GRANDPARENTS, GREAT-GRANDPARENTS AND THIRD PARTIES: A grandparent’s, great-grandparents or a third party’s ability to file for a custody order has been clarified.
4. CRIMINAL OFFENSES: The number and type of a person’s criminal convictions, which will affect one’s ability to obtain custody, have been expanded. Also, a criminal conviction for any person living with a party to a Custody action can impact that person’s custodial rights. Also, a criminal charge, rather than a conviction, can have an impact on custodial rights. There is a complicated procedure the Court must go through in these circumstances, before a Custody Order can be made, in order to determine if the party poses a threat to the subject child.
5. PARENTING PLAN: For the first time, the Court, through this statute, can Order the parties to submit a Parenting Plan in a Custody matter. The Form for this Plan is in the new statute. It is very detailed and must be thoroughly completed.
6. RELOCATION: Enormous and sweeping changes have occurred if a party desires to relocate with the child away from the geographical area where that parent currently lives and if that relocations will have an impact upon the current custody order or the ability of the other parent to maintain custodial contact with the child. The new Law contains formal notification forms and procedures, as well as detailing the manner of service of this Notice to the other parent. The new Law states what information must be provided, including a Form for Counter-Affidavit, Notification to the Court of whether the Other Parent Objects to the Move and the Parenting Plan form. The Statute further details the penalties for failure to comply with the Statute.
7. OTHER CHANGES: In addition, there are a number of other changes and expansions of the prior law.
These changes raise a host of questions and issues. It goes without saying that consultation with a good, experienced Family Lawyer is essential to any party who might be affected by these changes. Should you wish to schedule an appointment to meet, please feel free to contact me.