Father’s Rights Gaining in Custody Battles
Many men, including the Cordell Cordell Law Firm attorneys, are applauding changes to Pennsylvania’s child custody laws marking a significant step toward making both the mother and the father equal in the eyes of family court judges.
Notably, for its relevance to fathers, the new statute finally has a gender-neutral requirement stating, “The court shall be gender neutral in making a determination (of custody). No party shall receive preference based solely upon gender in any award granted.”
With the new law now in effect, Pennsylvania judges are also now required to state on the record their reasons for custody decisions. Previously, fathers were left in the dark as to a judge’s reasoning behind the custody determination, which usually came at the detriment of the father/non-custodial parent.
The statute also more clearly defines the factors the court must consider in making a custody determination. The statute now requires the court to consider factors that affect the safety of the child, which is broader than the old statute’s requirement that the court consider past or present abusive behavior of the parties, as defined in the Protection From Abuse Act.
The statute still addresses abusive conduct or domestic violence as crucial factors, but the new law provides the state’s courts with an extensive list of factors to be considered when deciding custody. Previously, the old statute only outlined three factors; the new law now has 16 factors judges should look at. Factors only previously laid out in case law are now specifically enumerated in the statute, according to Maura Cunningham, a Pennsylvania family law attorney with Cordell Cordell.
Among the factors the court must now consider:
- Which adult party is more likely to encourage and permit frequent and continued contact between the child and the other adult party;
- The parental duties performed by each party on behalf of the child;
- The need for stability and continuity in the child s education, family life and community life;
- The availability of extended family; and
- The child s sibling relationships.
This is the most comprehensive overhaul of laws impacting custody matters for Pennsylvania families in decades, Gretchen A. Mundorff, president of the Pennsylvania Bar Association, said in a statement.
The new law also safeguards non-custodial fathers on several issues, according to the Pennsylvania Families’ and Children’s Equality group. Custodial parents who want to move now have the burden of proof to show the move is in the best interest of the children, giving the non-custodial parent a chance to object to the move in court.
As far as relocation cases go, the statute provides for a much more detailed procedure for petitioning the court. A new Notice requirement has petitioners giving notice to the non-relocating party with a Counter-Affidavit objecting. However, Dads need to watch out when they are unrepresented and fail to object to Mom’s notice.
“If the party does not object within the time prescribed by the rules, he or she will be foreclosed from objecting to the relocation,” said Cunningham. “This is particularly scary for pro se parties who may not object to the relocation in a timely manner. This is where having good representation is extremely important; diligence is key here.”
According to Fathers 4 Justice’s Pennsylvania chapter, other provisions of the bill would require each parent to submit a parenting plan in cases of contested custody, allow for the appointment of a Guardian ad Litem or counsel for a child when necessary, and expand the list of criminal convictions courts would consider in determining custody.