In Pennsylvania, custody cases are resolved in one of two ways. The first way is the parents agree on a custody schedule and it is entered by the court. The second way is the Judge decides the case. In the event the Judge decides the case, it will be at the conclusion of a custody trial. During the trial, evidence is presented and argument is heard. The Judge then applies the custody law to the case and formulates a custody schedule.
The custody law provides that the Judge decide the case with the best interests of the child as the guiding principle. The custody statute provides 16 factors the Judge must consider in making the determination, however the 16th factor is any other relevant factor. Therefore, the Judge can consider any relevant evidence in determining the custody schedule. It is imperative to have a skilled child custody attorney. If you have a custody case in Somerset or Cambria County, please call my office today.
In Pennsylvania, the protection from abuse or PFA act provides a process which can result in the person on the wrong end losing the right to go to their own house, to see their kids, to possess firearms, the list goes on. To make matters worst, this can all take place intitially without you even knowing. For example, say your spouse or your girlfriend/boyfriend goes to legal aid, which provides legal representation for free, and tells them that you hit him or her. Legal aid will draw up a PFA petition and within a couple of hours your significant other will be testifying before a judge. Now regardless of the truth of the testimony, if the judge believes your significant other, possibly say good bye to going to your own house, seeing your own kids, and possessing your own guns for the time being. Concerned yet? As an attorney I sure am, talk about a process that could easily be abused, and one that often is.
Now luckily, that intital PFA Order is temporary and you are entitled to a hearing within ten (10) days of entry of the order. At the hearing your probably now ex-significant other has the burden of proof to establish grounds for a permanent PFA order. If your ex is successful at the hearing, you could lose your right to go to your house, to see your kids, and to possess your firearms for up to three (3) years. As such it is imperative to have a good defense attorney and a solid defense prepared to fight at this hearing. If you have had PFA filed against you please call my office immediately.
A Note on Pennsylvania PFAs and Firearms
PFAs are one of the most common ways I see people losing their firearms rights. As discussed, in Pennsylvania it is relatively simple for a person to get a temporary PFA, which in most cases results in automatic loss of firearms rights. A permanent PFA if entered after the hearing, generally also automatically results in loss of firearms rights. Unfortunately, while Pennsylvania law would allow you to keep your firearms rights if relinquishment of firearms is not ordered by the Judge, conflicting Federal Law (18 U.S.C. 922) in most cases prohibits firearm possession and purchase during the duration of the PFA order.
One issue that often arises in child custody is whether one parent may move their residence with the child. The answer is it depends on whether said move would qualify as a relocation. Pennsylvania custody law defines a relocation as a move that substantially affects the custody rights of the other parent. A parent must get written approval from the other parent, or court approval, before relocating, otherwise the parent moving away risks losing custody rights to their child.
There is no bright line rule as to what is a relocation, it depends on the circumstances. For example, if the parents live in the city, and one parent moves five miles away out of the city outside where public transportation goes, and the other parent relies on public transportation to get the children from the other parent, this would probably be found to be a relocation. Alternatively, say the parents live in a rural area like myself, and both parents have a vehicle, a five mile move by one of the parents probably would not be a relocation.
The custody relocation law applies regardless if a custody case has been filed. Therefore, it imperative that if you are a parent and considering moving away, or moving your residence away from the other parent, it is imperative you seek legal counsel first to avoid losing your right to see your children.