Anyone who has been involved in a child custody case will tell you that it is usually an unfortunately difficult and frustrating process. Part of the problem is a large body of case law and varying local rules which point parties in multiple directions without giving much guidance.
In order to help alleviate this problem, on November 24, 2010, House Bill 1639 was signed into law which rewrote the Pennsylvania Custody Statute. These changes were designed to bring Pennsylvania "into the 21st century" by improving the fairness and transparency of the child custody law. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Child custody law in PA. new this month (January 31, 2011). It is important for clients, as well as attorneys to be aware of these changes as the current custody statute 23 Pa.C.S.A. §5301-5340 has been repealed.
Important changes in the new custody statute include:
- A judge must now state on the record, in open court, or a written opinion, the reasoning for the custody decisions.
16 factors are now specifically stated which the court must consider when
awarding custody. These factors include:
- Which parent is more likely to encourage and permit frequent and continuing contact between the child and other party.
- Parental duties performed by each party on behalf of the child.
- The need for stability and continuity in the child's education, life and community life.
- The child's sibling relationships.
- The level of conflict between the parties and the willingness and ability of the parties to cooperate with each other.
- Custody is gender neutral. Neither the father or mother is automatically assumed to be the more appropriate custodial parent.
- Criminal offenses of both parties, as well as household members, must be considered by the court when determining custody.
- Grandparents have greater standing to file an action for custody.
- There is much stronger recourse for violations of the custody order, including imprisonment for not more than six months.
- The issue of relocation has now been codified, very clearly stating what needs to be proven at a relocation hearing and how the hearing is to be scheduled.
- A party can now file a custody action even if both parties are still residing in the same household.
These are just a few of the many changes contained within the new child custody statute. While the goal of the new law is to make the process more predictable and uniform, it is still important to consult with an attorney. Hopefully, the new law will result in less stress and frustration for clients while continuing to promote the best interest of the child.