2011 Changes to Pennsylvania Child Custody Laws

Effective January 24, 2011, significant changes were made to the existing child custody laws in Pennsylvania. This is the result of a decade-long reform process.

The guiding standard in making custody decisions is still what is “in the best interests of the child”. A court determines what is “in the best interests of the child” by considering all relevant factors, including 16 factors spelled out in the new law. These factors include which party is more likely to encourage and permit frequent and continuing contact between the child and another party and the need for stability in the child’s education, family life and community life.

The new law also provides that custody decisions must be gender-neutral and cannot favor either the mother or the father based on gender. It also requires judges to give justification for their custody decisions, either orally on the record or in written form.

Child custody relocation petitions filed after January 24, 2011 are also affected by this new law. A party intending to move or relocate must now provide the other party with notice of his or her intent to move. This notice must be provided by certified mail, return receipt, to every person who has custody rights to the child.

With a limited exception, the notice must be provided at least 60 days before the move. The notice must include detailed information about the new residence, including new address, phone number, name of school district, reason for move, and a counter-affidavit that includes a warning to the non-relocating party that if he/she does not file an objection to the move within 30 days of receipt of the notice, the non-relocating party loses his/her right to object to the move.

If the non-relocating party objects, a hearing is held to determine if the relocation is in the best interests of the child. The burden is on the relocating party to show that relocation is in the best interests of the child. The court may also consider:
-The nature, quality, extent of involvement and duration of the child’s relationships with each parent, siblings, and other significant people
-The age, development, needs of the child and the impact relocation will have on the child’s physical, educational and emotional development
-The feasibility of maintaining the relationship between the child and the non-relocating parent
-The child’s preference
-Whether the move will enhance the quality of life for the relocating parent and the child

Relocation cases are generally hotly contested by the non-relocating parent. This new law provides a new framework and guidance for parents involved in such relocation cases.

Divorce, custody, property settlement and other family law matters often involve emotional and challenging decisions. Michael J. Supinka, Esq. has years of experience representing clients in these matters and can provide the advice you need. Call Supinka & Supinka, PC for more information and assistance.

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