Domestic Violence and Child Custody
Accusations of domestic violence often arise when parties are in divorce or child custody proceedings. A party may make false or exaggerated claims of violence or actual violence may have ensued between the parties. Either way domestic violence accusations or charges may have detrimental effects on child custody.
In order to protect the child, a Pennsylvania court may order any child custody arrangement that is in best interest of the child. It is possible that it may be in the best interest in the child to have an arrangement other than shared custody between the two biological parents. A Pennsylvania court may authorize:
- Relocation of the domestic violence victim with the child;
- Supervised custody exchanges when transferring the child for visits;
- A third-party, including grandparents or step-parents, to get custody or visitation
Domestic violence accusations have serious consequences on the parent-child relationship, including a modification of a child custody arrangement and decreased contact with the child. If faced with domestic violence accusations, it is recommended to consult a proven domestic violence attorney during child custody proceedings.
Chester County Domestic Violence and Child Custody Attorney
If issues of domestic or family violence have arisen, it is important to act quickly. Contact the attorneys at Ciccarelli Law Offices at (610) 692-8700 for a confidential consultation. The team of attorneys at Ciccarelli Law Offices will use their combined experience to receive the best possible results in the child custody case.
You can meet on-one-one with a dedicated Pennsylvania child custody lawyer at one of our many convenient meeting sites in West Chester, Philadelphia, Radnor, Lancaster, Plymouth Meeting, Kennett Square, Malvern, Springfield. Call (610) 692-8700 or send an online message for a free consultation so we can act as soon as possible. We are based in West Chester PA and serve clients throughout Chester County, Lancaster County and suburban Philadelphia including West Chester, Kennett Square, Oxford, Avondale, Landenberg, West Grove, Paoli, Malvern, Downingtown, Coatesville, Exton, Parkesburg, Berwyn and Devon. We represent clients in Chester County, Montgomery County, Delaware County, and Lancaster County and throughout the Philadelphia and Southeastern Pennsylvania area.
Pennsylvania Domestic Violence and Child Custody Resource Center
- How does domestic violence affect the child custody arrangement?
- Can parents with history of domestic violence agree to a child custody arrangement?
- What happens if abuse is allegedly committed against the child?
- Where can I learn more about domestic violence and child custody?
In Pennsylvania most intentional or reckless acts that cause or attempt to cause physical or psychological harm to a family member are considered domestic violence. According to 23 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 6102 several classes of persons are considered family members (also referred to as a household member) , including spouses or former spouses, parents, and children.
Common offenses that constitute domestic violence include:
- Physically striking a family member;
- Physical or sexual abuse of minor child; or
All forms of domestic violence are considered during child custody proceedings, including acts of domestic violence not against the child. For example, if the spouses (parents of the minor child) have a physical altercation in the presence of the minor child, this is considered to have a detrimental effect and is not in the best interest of the child.
When making custody determinations the court must make a determination that is in the best interest of the child. A court may make any custody arrangement, so long as it is in the best interest of the child as defined in Title 23, Section § 5328. The court may consider the following factors (and any additional factors it deems relevant) when determining the best interests of the child:
- Which party is more likely to encourage and permit frequent and continuing contact between the child and another party.
- The present and past abuse committed by a party or member of the party’s household, whether there is a continued risk of harm to the child or an abused party and which party can better provide adequate physical safeguards and supervision of the child.
- The parental duties performed by each party on behalf of the child.
- The need for stability and continuity in the child’s education, family life and community life.
- The availability of extended family.
- The child’s sibling relationships.
- The well-reasoned preference of the child, based on the child’s maturity and judgment.
- The attempts of a parent to turn the child against the other parent, except in cases of domestic violence where reasonable safety measures are necessary to protect the child from harm.
- Which party is more likely to maintain a loving, stable, consistent and nurturing relationship with the child adequate for the child’s emotional needs.
- Which party is more likely to attend to the daily physical, emotional, developmental, educational and special needs of the child.
- The proximity of the residences of the parties.
- Each party’s availability to care for the child or ability to make appropriate child-care arrangements.
- The level of conflict between the parties and the willingness and ability of the parties to cooperate with one another. A party’s effort to protect a child from abuse by another party is not evidence of unwillingness or inability to cooperate with that party.
- The history of drug or alcohol abuse of a party or member of a party’s household.
- The mental and physical condition of a party or member of a party’s household.
When accusations of domestic violence persist or there is a history of domestic violence, the court may place considerable weight on certain factors, including past and present domestic abuse and whether there is a continued risk to the child, whether another party can provide better physical safeguards to the minor child, history of drug or alcohol abuse, and mental and physical condition of a party.
Based on the unique circumstances of the case, the court may determine the following custody arrangement is appropriate:
- Sole physical custody may be awarded to the parent who did not perpetrate the abuse;
- Primary physical custody may be awarded to the parent without the history of abuse;
- Supervised physical custody during which the parent, who poses a risk to the child, may be monitored during visits with the child; or
- Under rare circumstances, a third party (i.e. a step-parent or grandparent) may be granted custody or visitation.
Child custody cases with a domestic violence element are complex. The resulting child custody arrangement depends greatly on the unique facts in each case. It is best to have an experienced attorney help navigate through this process.
Domestic violence issues do not automatically take away parents’ ability to make decisions regarding the custody of their children. The court’s paramount concern is the welfare and safety of the children. Whether the domestic violence is an isolated incident or there is a history of violence greatly affects the decision of the court and the ultimate child custody arrangement.
Generally, parents may enter into mediation, which is a less adversarial forum to discuss issues of child custody and visitation. During mediation the parents with the help of a neutral party will make decisions regarding physical custody of the child, visitation arrangements, schooling, healthcare, etc. for the child.
However, Pennsylvania law prevents parties from entering mediation to make child custody or visitation decisions if the abuse occurred within two years of the child custody complaint. Due to the dangerous nature of domestic violence and the often unequal power dynamic between the parties, mediation is prohibited to ensure parties enter into a child custody and visitation arrangement that is in the best interests of the child. No party can compel a particular arrangement by force or intimidation.
When mediation is not an available resource or the parties cannot agree to a custody arrangement, the judge may make the decision for custody. Using the aforementioned best interests of the child factors, the judge will review all the evidence submitted to the court, including information provided by child protective services, witness testimony, and any other relevant evidence, including photographs, emails, and text messages to determine the appropriate child custody arrangement.
Customarily, when there are allegations of violence or abuse of a child protective services (CPS) gets involved. Any person can alert CPS of suspected abuse by contacting law enforcement or the Department of Human Services, directly. While any person can report abuse, certain persons have a legal obligation to report abuse. Any person whose occupation or profession causes them to come in contact with children are required by law to report abuse when they have a reasonable cause to suspect abuse. These persons include:
- Any licensed physician;
- Registered nurse;
- Member of the clergy; or
- Teachers or school administration
Like general domestic violence, child abuse or neglect comes in many forms. The most common forms of abuse include:
- Forcible shaking;
- Slapping or striking;
- Sexual abuse;
- Withholding of basic necessities, including food, water, clothing, or shelter
CPS involvement can be intimating for any parent or guardian. CPS has the right to initial proceedings to modify the custody arrangement depending on its finding.
During child custody proceedings where child abuse is alleged or suspected, the court may consider any available CPS reports. According to Title 23 § 5329.1the report provided by child protective services will specifically state:
- Whether the suspected abuse was founded or unfounded;
- Whether the party or member of the party’s household perpetrated the abuse;
- The date and circumstances of the child abuse; and
- The current status of the investigation
Should child protective services believe that the child is being abused or protected, CPS may petition the court to modify the child custody arrangement.
Pennsylvania Department of Human Services: Pennsylvania Department of Human Services provides resources 24 hours a day, seven days a week to report suspected child abuse or neglect. To report suspected child abuse or neglect contact the Pennsylvania State Hotline at (215) 683-6100 or (800) 932-0313.
Prevent Child Abuse Pennsylvania: Prevent Child Abuse Pennsylvania is the Pennsylvania State chapter of the organization, American Academy of Pediatrics—an organization dedicated to the prevention of child abuse and neglect. This organization collaborates with local and state efforts to raise awareness and prevention of child abuse.
Keep Kids Safe Pennsylvania: Keep Kids Safe PA is a local organization that provides resources for victims of child abuse and those who suspect a child they know is suffering abuse. The website provides answers to frequently asked questions about child abuse, organizations to which to report abuse, and child abuse clearance information.
Domestic Violence and Child Custody Attorney in Pennsylvania
Allegations of domestic violence can greatly jeopardize your relationship with your child. Allow the experienced attorneys at Ciccarelli Law Offices to help you navigate through the criminal and civil aspects of your case. With significant experience in both criminal and family law, the Ciccarelli Law Offices team of attorneys will work together for the best result in your case.
Call (610) 692-8700 or send an online message for a free consultation so we can act as soon as possible. We are based in West Chester PA and serve clients throughout Chester County, Lancaster County and suburban Philadelphia including West Chester, Kennett Square, Oxford, Avondale, Landenberg, West Grove, Paoli, Malvern, Downingtown, Coatesville, Exton, Parkesburg, Berwyn and Devon. We have convenient meeting locations in Lancaster, Philadelphia, Plymouth Meeting, Kennett Square, Malvern, Springfield, King of Prussia, and Radnor. Our family lawyers serve those with immediate legal needs in Chester County, Montgomery County, Delaware County and Lancaster County.
Call us today at Ciccarelli Law Offices or send an online message for a free consultation.