A non-custodial parent, who wants to increase his or her custody time, must initiate legal proceedings in court. To do so, the parent must file a Petition with the court to request a modification of the current custody order.There are two types of custody in Pennsylvania. The first is “legal custody” which gives a parent the legal right to make decisions about the child’s schooling, medical care, religious upbringing, and other important matters. Most often, courts grant joint legal custody unless one parent is deemed unfit or incapable of making such decisions. The second is “physical custody”. Physical custody is a parent’s time spent with the child. A court award shared physical custody, primary physical custody, partial physical custody, sole physical custody, or supervised physical custody. The following are topics that a parent should focus on when trying to increase the physical custody time.
- Best Interests of the Child. In any custody determination, the Pennsylvania child custody laws require the court to determine what is in the best interests of the child. This standard includes a review and analysis of each parent’s duties performed on behalf of the child, which parent is likely to promote stability in the child’s life, the child’s sibling relationships and relationships with extended family, any present or past abuse committed by one parent, which party in more likely to attend to the child’s daily needs (e.g. emotional, physical, education, and developmental), and which parent is more likely to encourage and permit frequent and continuing contact between the child and the other party. This list is not exhaustive and the non-custodial parent should be prepared to present a strong case for each and every factor.
- Documentation. A child custody lawyer will present a case on the parent’s behalf in court. Testimony from the child’s parents, other family members, and possibly the child, will almost certainly be presented in any custody trial, but documentation can be key evidence. A parent should consider documenting instances of the other parent’s behavior. This can help establish a pattern. Without documenting the behavior, the non-custodial parent may forget important details or fail to remember the time frame by which the behavior occurred.
- Witnesses. As stated above, the parents will almost always testify in court. Other witnesses may include the child, the child’s siblings, and other family members who have personal knowledge of the circumstances. Witnesses may also include counselors, therapists, behavioral specialists, and other healthcare professionals.
- Emails and Text Messages. A parent should always save email and text messages from the other parent. If the other parent consistently makes condescending statements to the non-custodial parent, refuses requests from the non-custodial parent to see the child, admits to being under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or other statements that can contradict the behavior and attitude of a responsible parent, then a lawyer can use those statements in court. Those statements may be used to prove something or they may be used to impeach the credibility of the parent making those statements.
- Home Study/Custody Evaluation. Judge’s give deference to licensed professionals who perform a home study and/or a custody evaluation. Psychologists and therapists investigate the situation and then prepare a report for each parent to use in court. The report usually includes recommendations. The report will usually summarize interviews with each parent, family members, and the child; observations of each parent’s home; a review of medical records of a parent if the medical condition is an issue; and so on. It is important to have someone with good credentials and a great reputation perform the custody evaluation.
- Hire a Child Custody Lawyer. A lawyer with experience in child custody matters is extremely important. A lawyer can assist the non-custodial parent with drafting a Petition that is comprehensive and that complies with the child custody laws; prepare the case and argue the case effectively on the non-custodial parent’s behalf; arrange for witnesses to appear through the use of a subpoena, if necessary; arrange the custody evaluation; prepare the non-custodial parent’s testimony; and organize the evidence and exhibits for trial.
Fighting for custodial rights of a child is perhaps the most important situation that a parent will ever be involved in. Nothing can replace preparation and diligence, except being a good parent. Parents should always be encouraged to set their differences with the other parent when decisions are made concerning the child. A parent should never take their custody time for granted and should always make the most of i