Philadelphia Child Custody FAQs
For parents going through a divorce, the matter of child custody is often the most important issue to the parties. It can also be the most emotional and highly contentious. Philadelphia family law attorney Lauren H. Kane works hard to make sure you and your children are taken care of throughout the divorce process and long after. See below for answers to some frequently asked questions about child custody in Pennsylvania and call the Law Offices of Lauren H. Kane for help with a Philadelphia divorce or child custody dispute.
Q. Can we get a custody order while living “separate and apart” in the same residence?
A. The most common ground for divorce in Pennsylvania is a no-fault divorce based on an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage after the couple has lived “separate and apart” for at least one year. Some couples choose to live in the same residence during that period for economic reasons or the sake of the children. Under Pennsylvania law, you can seek a custody order during that period, but it will only be effective once one party physically vacates the residence or a court order awards possession of the residence to one party exclusively.
Call our office if you have questions about what it means to live separate and apart in the same residence to establish grounds for a no-fault divorce.
Q. Once the divorce is filed, who gets to stay in the family home?
A. The court can award the right to reside in the marital residence to one or both parents during the pendency of the divorce. This may be done with the best interest of the children in mind, letting the parent providing primary custodial care stay in the home with the children for the sake of stability and consistency. This can impact both later child custody decisions as well as for deciding what to do with the family home in the property division. This decision can, therefore, be an important issue in the divorce process.
Q. Does the gender of the parent and child play a role in custody decisions?
A. No. Pennsylvania child custody law specifically requires custody decisions to be gender-neutral.
Q. How might a parent’s criminal conviction impact a custody order?
A. When a parent is seeking any form of custody, the court is required to consider whether the parent or any member of the parent’s household has been convicted or pleaded guilty or no contest to one of a number of listed criminal offenses, including certain crimes of violence or sexual offenses, drunk driving and more. Before granting any form of custody to the parent, the court must determine that the party does not pose a threat of harm to the child.
Q. Does an unmarried father have any rights to custody?
A. If the parents were not married when the child was born and did not later marry or acknowledge the child’s paternity, the father might first need to file a civil action to establish paternity. Genetic testing creates a presumption of parentage, but it is not the only piece of evidence in a paternity proceeding. Other forms of evidence tending to show paternity include whether the father paid the bills for the pregnancy, childbirth and postnatal care. Once legal parentage has been established, the father can pursue custody. However, the father will also be obligated to support the child financially and may become subject to an order for child support.
Q. What rights do grandparents have to custody or visitation?
A. It is the policy of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to encourage continuing contact with grandparents when a parent is deceased, divorced or separated. If a parent objects to this contact, courts may give deference to the parent’s decision, but the best interest of the child is always predominant in any question regarding child custody in Pennsylvania. A grandparent can bring a custody action if all of the following conditions exist:
- The relationship with the child began with the consent of a parent or under a court order
- The grandparent is willing to assume responsibility for the child
- The child has been adjudged dependent, is substantially at risk due to parental abuse, neglect, drug or alcohol abuse or incapacity, or the child has resided with the grandparent for at least 12 consecutive months and is removed from the home by the parents.
When ordering partial physical custody or supervised physical custody, the court must consider:
- The amount of personal contact between the child and the other party
- Whether the award interferes with any parent-child relationship
- Whether the award is in the best interest of the child
In the case of grandparents specifically, the court must consider whether the award:
- Interferes with any parent-child relationship
- Is in the best interest of the child