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A Guide to Getting Sole Custody in Pennsylvania

My experience is that divorce is almost always unilateral. It’s not a democracy. One person gets to decide the fate of not only the marriage but the family. –Michelle Weiner Davis

While divorce is a very frustrating event for the couple per se, it gets even harder if children are involved. Unfortunately, it is impossible to separate them without the slightest impact on them. Besides having to face the fact that their family will never be the same and one of the parents will not live with them anymore, children become the focus of the fiercest battle for custody.

Things get tougher still more if the spouses cannot agree amicably, which inevitably entails the interference of lawyers and court trials, especially in case of aggravating circumstances.

Here are some statistics on child custody:

A Guide to Getting Sole Custody in Pennsylvania

Unfortunately, such unpleasant matters need to be resolved, and it is better to do it fast. Experienced Pennsylvania divorce and family lawyers can offer their counsel and explain the issues step by step.

Besides, if you search the web, you are sure to find online recommendations and pieces of advice as well as samples of papers that you would need to file, like Pennsylvania divorce forms, and even guidelines on how to fill them in. Here, we offer a short guide on getting sole custody in Pennsylvania if you do not have other options.

Types of Custody in Pennsylvania

Child custody can be physical, which determines the right to take care of the child daily (who they live with), and legal, which defines the involvement of a parent in making important decisions concerning the upbringing. Besides, both of these types can be either shared (when both parents are involved) or sole (if only one of them has the corresponding right). In a nutshell:

  • Shared legal custody – both parents can make long-term decisions regarding schooling, medical involvement, religion, etc.;
  • Shared physical custody – children can spend time with both parents and live with both of them on predetermined periods;
  • Sole legal custody – only one parent can make important decisions about children;
  • Sole physical custody – children live with one parent and the second one does not have even visitation rights.

In the most extreme cases, one of the parties is awarded sole physical and legal custody. The court may decide on terminating parental rights if another parent poses a threat to the children’s well-being and any encounter with him or her can be traumatizing or even dangerous for the young ones.

Types of Custody in Pennsylvania

Reasons for Sole Custody

It should be noted that judges make decisions in the best interests of the children. They consider physical, psychological, emotional, moral, spiritual, and intellectual factors as well as issues like children’s relationships with other relatives and their personal preferences.

Sufficient grounds for sole custody may be neglect, abandonment, incarceration, or relocation of another parent. If the reasons are not linked with the unavailability (like relocation or incarceration), it should be proven that the ex-partner is unfit to take care of the children and any encounter with him or her may be detrimental to their wellbeing. Such cases may include:

  • Abuse
  • Neglect
  • Substance abuse or addiction
  • Untreated serious mental disorders
  • Domestic violence
  • Unhealthy living conditions
  • Financial instability
  • Lack of involvement in child’s life
  • Violation of parenting agreements after divorce

See Also: Comprehensive Guide to Parental Leave

How to Get Sole Custody in Pennsylvania?

Getting sole custody may be a rather daunting task. Courts are not very willing to grant it, basing their decision on the fact that the presence of both parents in a child’s life is more beneficial to them. However, acting in the best interests of the children, judges would give priority to their safety and welfare, which makes the matter not so hopeless in case of sufficient proof.

Thus, to get sole custody in PA, you need to prove that the partner is unfit to take care of your children and that they may be endangered by any attempt to contact him or her. While all these issues will surely be discussed with the lawyer for them to develop the case and build an appropriate defense, your responsibility is to gather all the proof.

How to Get Sole Custody in Pennsylvania

These are the steps you need to take in your attempt to get sole custody in the state of Pennsylvania:

  1. Collect a sufficient amount of evidence that proves another parent’s unfitness. Keep a record of dates and events; track cases of abuse, neglect, and other unwarranted actions; and get witnesses who can confirm inappropriate relations. However, evidence can be obtained legally or illegally. Therefore, it is important to discuss their appropriateness with your attorney, who can also determine their relevance for the case.
  2. When you and the lawyer have defined that you have the case for sole custody, you need to file a complaint with the court. Make sure to request the court of the county where you (your children) reside. In addition, fill in all the accompanying forms required by the local court.
  3. The hardest step is to inform the ex-partner about your intentions and serve the papers to them, which requires their physical receiving of the documents in hand. The difficulty mostly lies in the specificity of the situation that, in most cases, automatically means the lack of cooperation and unwillingness of another party to agree to your sole custody. Such instances will require the involvement of an intermediary and a specialist who knows exactly how to make them take the papers.
  4. In case of success, the court may require a meeting of the parties for mutual arrangements. Unfortunately, an agreement is not always reached and a trial may be requested for the judge to make the final custody decision.

Unfortunately, while children tend to be the most vulnerable parties in a divorce, they are the ones that cause the most heated and fierce debates and disputes. It is good when the partners can decide on custody amicably and even without the lawyer’s interference.

But if the situation is on the brink of the danger posed to the children’s safety and well-being, you cannot do without expert help to ensure your sole custody in PA. Get a reliable family law agency that can advise on many aspects of the process and represent you in court if need be. And remember that in such cases, the best interests of your children must be given the top priority.

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