West Chester Child Custody Lawyer
When dealing with child custody or visitation, our clients appreciate the caring and supportive atmosphere that we provide to families along with our legal ability and experience. When deciding issues regarding child custody, the courts in Pennsylvania will consider many factors including the preference of the child, the mental and physical health of the parents, the relationship between the child, the parents, and any siblings, and a number of other pertinent factors.
At Ciccarelli Law Offices we understand the impact that divorce and parental separation has on children. We work hard to negotiate effective custody arrangements that directly addresses the best interests of your children. At Ciccarelli Law Offices we advocate the rights of all family members during the difficult process of family dissolution. We help families establish Pennsylvania child custody agreements that recognize and respond to all family relationships. Our Chester County family law attorneys handle shared custody, sole custody, and joint custody matters involving fathers’ rights; grandparents’ rights; paternity issues; visitation agreements; adoption; and temporary custody.
Lawyers Experienced in Fighting for What Matters
Negotiation and compromise in the child’s best interest is always the approach to emphasize first. A respectful, honorable, more humane decision-making is preferable to, and less traumatic than, litigation. Clinical research shows the importance of ongoing relationships with both parents. We work with mothers and fathers to develop child custody agreements that respond to this fundamental need. We seek custody arrangements that benefit the children of divorce or separated parents and serve primarily the best interests of the child or children.
Learn about Custody Law in West Chester
In Pennsylvania, legal custody is the right to make important decisions that impact children including decisions regarding education, religion, and medical care. If PA parents are able to cooperate in any minimal fashion, legal custody is often shared between the parents. Under a PA shared legal custody arrangement, the parent who has physical custody on a given day makes routine day-to-day decisions impacting a minor child and the parties share the responsibility for making major decisions. Learn more about Custody Law in Chester County by contacting West Chester PA Custody attorney, Hilary Styer.
How is custody decided in Court in Chester County?
Most of the time, parents are able to come to an agreement on the best type of custody arrangement for them and the children. After all, isn’t it better for the parents to decide what is the best custody arrangement for their children rather than a judge who doesn’t know the parents or children? Even when the parents are angry at each other, hopefully they can step back from their anger and realize that both parents play an important role in their children’s lives.
Partial custody is the right to take possession of a minor child or minor children away from the custodial parent and may include the right to have overnight custody with the child or children. Shared physical custody (sometimes referred to as joint physical custody) is the term used to designate frequent and continuing contact between the child or children and his or her parents and is the term generally used when both parents have almost equal overnight periods of custody. Primary custody is the right of one parent to have the majority of custodial time with a minor child or minor children. Sole physical custody is rarely awarded. Sole custody is the award of custody rights to one parent with no custody rights to the other parent. In order to fight for custody you have to file a Custody Complaint. ie. If you live in West Chester PA, or Downingtown PA or Kennett Square, the Custody Complaint would be filed in Chester County.
Obtaining Child Custody
Learn about seeking custody rights in Chester County: Most of the time, parents are able to come to an agreement on the best type of custody arrangement for them and the children. After all, isn’t it better for the parents to decide what is the best custody arrangement for their children rather than a judge who doesn’t know the parents or children? Even when the parents are angry at each other, hopefully they can step back from their anger and realize that both parents play an important role in their children’s lives. Learn more from A West Chester PA Custody lawyer. Contact us (610) 692-8700.
In some cases, the parents are not able to speak to each other without fighting let alone come to an agreement regarding custody. If the parents are not able to agree on a custodial arrangement, court action may be necessary. The formal legal process begins with the filing of a custody complaint. Generally, the complaint is filed in the state and county where the child has lived for the past six months.
In Chester County, our custody lawyers are experienced in filing a custody complaint, getting a hearing scheduled before a Master and do his best to both prepare to fight for custody while using his reasonable negotiation skills. If an agreement cannot be made at the conference before the custody master or hearing officer, home studies and/or psychological evaluations of the parents and children may be ordered. Once the psychological evaluations are completed and a report is issued, a hearing is then conducted and the court will determine the custodial arrangement that is in the best interests and welfare of the children.
Best Interests of the Child in a Divorce Case
The Custody Judge, whether he is based in West Chester PA or Philadelphia or Lancaster will look at “the best interests of the child” which includes looking at all factors which have an effect upon the child’s physical, intellectual, moral, and spiritual well-being.
The best interests of the child analysis generally includes consideration of any prior custody arrangements including the amount of time each parent has spent with the child in the past; the involvement of each parent in the child’s school, religious upbringing and medical care; whether there are other siblings or half-siblings in either parent’s residence; the child’s preference if the child can articulate a justifiable reason for the preference; the school district where each parent resides and the distance between the parents’ residences; whether either parent or the children suffer from any psychological or physical conditions; whether either parent abuses prescription or illegal drugs or alcohol; whether the parents are able to communicate and cooperate with each other regarding the children; whether either parent has attempted to undermine the other parent’s custody rights; and any other factors that may impact the minor children’s best interests.
Shared Custody in Chester County
In the past, courts have been reluctant to grant equally-shared physical custody of a child in an effort to provide a more constant, regular home life for minor children. However West Chester Pa Custody lawyer has been successful in pursuing Shared Custody in light of the realities of modern families in which both parents may be working outside the home. Learn more about shared custody in West Chester PA and throughout Philadelphia by contacting our legal team.A Custody Court will look at a number of factors to make their decision, based both on the Divorce Code (at 23 Pa.C.S.A. §5303) and Pennsylvania Case Law. Those factors all reflect that the Judge’s decision highlights the child-centered inquiry, as opposed to fairness to the parents for custody time. As each custody case is judged on its own set of facts, it is vital to give a court the specific facts of each situation in the context of what is best for the children. Please call Ciccarelli Lawyers today to set up a consultation where we can evaluate your case.
Visitation is the part of the court order that defines the conditions for the non-custodial parent to have contact with the child. Visitation is limited by legal custody being vested in the other parent. This means that your visitation does not give you the authority to conflict with the long range decisions and policies of the parent with legal custody. For example, if the parent with legal custody has decided to raise the child in the Jewish tradition, the parent with visitation rights may not take the child to be baptized in a Catholic church.
Even in cases of abuse, the only reported cases have upheld supervised visitation. Supervised visitation is when the parent is only allowed to visit with the child in the company of another person. This person is usually a friend or relative that the two parents agree will be allowed to act as a chaperon. Supervised visitation often calls for a restriction of visitation to a particular location and time.
Who can be awarded visitation? Obviously a biological parent can be awarded visitation. Additionally, grandparents (even when the parents weren’t married or are not currently divorced) and step-parents may be awarded visitation rights. While there are no reported cases of brothers or sisters being given visitation, a strong argument could be made that it would be in the best interest of the child.
When can visitation be denied? The court has the power to deny visitation. Normally the court will only stop visitation for a certain time or until a certain task is performed. For example, the court has previously stayed visitation until the parent met their financial obligation. If your spouse should deny you court ordered visitation, you first file for a modification of visitation for a more definite schedule, before filing a contempt action. Withholding of child support will only get you in trouble and possibly arrested.
Filing for Grandparent’s Visitation Rights in West Chester
In Pennsylvania, under section 5313(b) of the Pennsylvania Domestic Relations Code, grandparents have the right to sue for primary custody of their minor grandchildren. While any grandparent may file a Complaint for Custody, in a case contested by the biological parents, a grandparent has strict evidentiary burdens that must be proven if the trial court judge is going to award custody to the grandparents. Contact West Chester PA Custody Lawyer if you need reasonable legal advice and representation about grandparent’s rights in Chester County and Philadelphia PA.
As preliminary matters, the grandparent must prove (1) that the relationship with the grandchildren began with the consent of the parent or pursuant to an order of court; (2) that the grandparent has genuine care and concern for the grandchildren; and (3) that the grandchildren either (a) resided with the grandparents for at least 12 months where the grandparents acted like the grandchildren’s parents (generally requires that the parent not also reside in the house); (b) that the grandchildren have been declared dependent due to parental abuse or neglect; or (c) that the grandparents believe that the grandchildren are substantially at risk due to parental abuse, neglect, drug or alcohol issues.
If you are a grandparent seeking primary custody, partial custody, visitation, or adoption rights with your minor grandkids who have resided in PA for at least six months or if you are a mother or father who has been sued by your minor children’s grandparents for primary physical custody, partial custody, or visitation, contact us.
Terminating Parental Rights in West Chester
Sometimes drastic measures have to be made for the sake of your child. Speak to attorney Hilary Styer if you need to file a Petition to Terminate Parental Rights in Chester County or the greater Philadelphia area. In Pennsylvania, a custodial parent can file a private termination petition after six months of abandonment of the child. The absent or unfit parent is notified and a hearing date set. If that parent consents or fails to show up at the hearing, a Petition to Confirm Consent or Petition to Terminate Rights is entered and an adoption hearing can be immediately conducted. This process eliminates the possibility of a parent resurfacing years later to assert his or her parental rights.If the parent contests the termination, a hearing is set and litigation commences. The court will investigate and consider many factors:
- Did the parent have any contact or provide any support?
- Was he or she thwarted in trying to have contact?
- What would be the psychological impact on the child?
- Is there evidence of drug use, or physical or sexual abuse?
Many factors can constitute grounds to terminate parental rights:
- Abandonment for a period of at least six (6) months immediately proceeding the filing of a Petition to Terminate
- Incompetency and Neglect
- The Parent is not the biological parent of the child (However, circumstances and legal doctrine can challenge this ground)
- Found Child – Child is in the custody of an agency because parent(s) have disappeared or identity is unknown following three (3) months after child is found
- Failure to remedy conditions six (6) months following the removal of a child from an agency
- Newborns under age six (6) months if parent fails to maintain contact or financially support child for four (4) months and is not married or living with other parent
- Rape and incest – parent is the father of a child conceived as a result of rape or incest
- 12 month abandonment – 12 months have elapsed following placement of child with an agency and conditions have not been remedied
- Voluntary Termination or Relinquishment of Parental Rights
- A birth parent can voluntarily relinquish his or her parental rights by filing a Petition to Terminate Parental Rights if a child is under age 18 and has been in the care of an agency for a minimum of three days or an adult has filed a report of Intention to Adopt
- It is against public policy for a parent to voluntarily relinquish his or her parental rights without simultaneous procedures of another party(s) to adopt. This policy ensures that minors will always be financially supported by adults who are either responsible to support a child or choose to adopt and thus support a child.
- Circumstances that typically cannot be used as grounds for termination of parental rights are:
- Mental illness – courts must still consider needs and welfare of children
- Incarceration of a parent
- Child in need of welfare or social services but parent is taking steps to remedy the conditions which led to the removal of child
Experienced Pennsylvania Child Custody Attorney
At Ciccarelli Law Offices, our child custody lawyers are both passionate in what they do and compassionate in their treatment of their clients in need of help in custody and visitation issues. You deserve a Pennsylvania custody and family lawyer that is available when you need him, treats you with respect, and protects your rights vigorously. For more information or to schedule an appointment with an experienced Pennsylvania Custody Attorney at Ciccarelli Law Offices, by contacting us at (610) 692-8700 or toll free at (877) 529-2422.