Custody and visitation

The following information was discussed by Attorney Whitney Hughes on the July 31, 2007 edition of Legal Briefs on KDKA's Pittsburgh Today Live Show.

This is another area that the Lawyer Referral Service takes many calls in. As with divorce, we offer many different services including low cost-panels and referrals to other agencies which provide income based or free services as well.

As with anything else, simply call the referral service to find out what your options are.

The Basics:

Custody is the legal right to keep, protect, care for and raise a child.

There are two types of Custody:

1. Legal Custody - the right to make major decisions regarding a child

2. Physical Custody - actual physical possession of the child

There are also different forms of custody as well:

  • Full Custody - one person has physical and legal custody
  • Partial Custody - the non custodial parent can have the child in their home at certain set times
  • Visitation - the non-custodial parent can see the child but only at a certain place and under certain circumstances
  • Shared Custody - both parents have roles in the child's upbringing and the physical custody

* Keep in mind that when making any decision regarding custody, the courts always look at what will be in the best interests of the child.

Common Questions:

I filed for custody, and now I've been told I have to go through mediation. What is this and do I really have to go?

In Allegheny County, the parties involved in a custody case are required to attend a mediation session with a court-appointed mediator. If both parties agree to the terms of the custody agreement, they will leave the mediation session with a Memorandum of Understanding which can then be changed into a binding court order. If the matter can't be resolved, a hearing will be held in front of a court-appointed custody master or hearing officer.

What types of things does the court consider in determining the "best interests of the child?”

The court will consider many things, including but not limited to:

  • The current and prior relationship the parent has with the child;
  • The existing family structure and whether there are any siblings involved; any special physical or medical needs of the child;
  • The effect on any school enrollment;
  • The parent's physical and emotional limitations, and
  • The parent's willingness to cooperate with the other parent and adhere to any custody agreement / order

I want to ask the court to change the custody arrangements but my child lives in another state. Can I still go through our local courts?

When custody matters involve more than one state, the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction & Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) determines which court has jurisdiction to enter a custody order. The UCCJEA says that the court in the county and state where the child has lived for six months before a custody action is usually the court that has jurisdiction. The UCCJEA also says that if there is already a custody order, the court that originally entered the order will be the court to modify it unless it decides that another court would be more appropriate.

I am a grandparent and want to have custody of my grandchildren. Do I have any rights?

Pennsylvania grants grandparents reasonable custodial rights in three situations:

  1. The parent is deceased - If a parent is deceased, the parents or grandparents of the deceased parent may be granted reasonable partial custody or visitation rights, or both to the child by the court if it is found that the visitation is in the child's best interest. The more contact the grandparents had with the child before the death of the parent, the more custodial time the grandparents will be given.
  2. When the parents are divorced or separated - After a divorce complaint has been filed or when the parents have been separated for six months or more, the court may grant reasonable partial custody or visitation rights, if it is in the child's best interest and would not interfere with the parent-child relationship. Again, the court will consider the amount of contact between the grandparents and the child prior to the petition being filed.
  3. If the child has lived with the grandparents - If a child has resided with grandparents for 12 months or more and is removed from the home by the parents, the grandparents or great-grandparents can ask the court for partial custody or visitation. The best interests of the child will be considered, and these rights will only be granted if the granting of the rights will not interfere with the parent-child relationship.

If you need to speak to an attorney, call our Lawyer Referral Service at 412-261-5555.