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Child Custody


Everyone wants what is best for their children, but people may have drastically different ideas of what is actually best. I will work closely with you to craft an agreement for legal and physical custody. I will help you establish an orderly routine that maximizes contact and is appropriate for the child's developmental stage. We may also refer you to a child specialist or co-parenting counselor to foster discussion about what will work best. I am sensitive to the educational and psychological needs of children and I treat custody as an ongoing issue which should be driven by the needs of the children.


I recognize that every family is different and every family has unique circumstances that will impact custody. For instance, your child's extracurricular activities, the distance between your homes, and where your child attends school are all factors to consider when crafting a child custody agreement. Only good faith negotiation and creativity can achieve an agreement that is truly in everyone's best interests.


Unfortunately, child custody and visitation are often the most contentious issues in divorce proceedings.


In my experience, custody litigation is the most expensive and burdensome litigation in family court, not to mention the most psychologically damaging to children and emotionally draining for the parents. Furthermore, it is never final. Custody issues are always open to subsequent modification. I will weigh the costs and benefits of litigation with you to determine the best course of action. Nevertheless, if litigation is the chosen path, our experienced attorneys are well versed on the local procedures to help guide you through the court process and advocate for the best interest of the child.


New Custody Statute


In January 2011, Pennsylvania enacted a new child custody statute. The new statute is an overhaul of the prior custody statute which incorporates prior case law as well. There are changes, clarifications, and expansions of significance.


The goal of the custody statute, and all custody cases, is to reach the result in the best interest of the child. To assist the court in doing so, the statute introduces 16 factors the court now must consider in making a custody determination. A sampling is as follows:


• Encouraging and permitting frequent and continued contact between the child

  and the other party;

• Ability to sustain a loving, stable, consistent and nurturing relationship with the

  child adequate for the child's emotional needs;

• Availability to care for the child;

• Duties performed by each party in their capacity as parents;

• Stability and continuity in the child's life;

• Availability of extended family and consideration of sibling relationships;

• Present and past abuse in the household and risk of harm to the child.


The statute also introduces an expanded list of crimes which will require the court to hold a hearing to determine if a threat to the child exists. Under the new statute, crimes of a party and/or members of the party's household will be considered. Additionally, the court will look into guilty pleas, pleas of no contest and specific charged crimes. Significantly, crimes such as driving under the influence of alcohol or driving after imbibing alcohol are new to the list of crimes which will require the court to hold a special hearing before making any order of custody.


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One major development under the custody statute is the newfound ability to file for custody while living in the same residence. Previously, the parties had to physically separate prior to a custody determination. The statute now allows for parties living in the same household to file for custody in anticipation of a move. This assures the vacating party that there will be continuing contact with the children in a court enforceable manner.


The new statute institutes new procedures when one party wishes to relocate outside the jurisdiction. Specifically, the party requesting the relocation must provide at least sixty days written notice to the other party. The non-relocating party must respond within thirty days of the receipt of the notice or potentially lose the ability to object to the change. If relocation becomes an issue, it is important to act promptly and seek information regarding the proper procedure.


Overall, the new statute aims to create uniformity among Pennsylvania courts in how custody cases proceed and what will be considered in each determination. No matter how specific or comprehensive the custody statute is, however, the fact remains that the person in the best position to decide what custody arrangement will work best for you and your children is you and the other party through thoughtful consideration and negotiation.


Advice From a Psychologist Regarding Divorce


Lisa Bennett, Ph.D (Elizabeth Bennett's daughter)

psychologist in Fairfax, Virginia, gives the following

guidelines for divorcing parents:

Elizabeth (Lisa) Bennett


Principles of Parenting Following Divorce


• Increase nurturing behaviors (hugs, tucking in at night, attentive listening, play).

• Maintain the same behavioral standards and limit-setting procedures.

• Maintain similar behavior consequences across households.

• Allow liberal and tension-free contact between your child and your ex-spouse

  (except in certain circumstances).

• Generally, do not intertwine battles over property, finances, and legal proceedings

  with custody issues. Maintain your focus on the best interests of the child.

• Do not speak poorly of your ex-spouse in front of your child, or argue openly in front

  of your child.

• Meet your visitation schedule without exceptions. Help your child build memories

  about seamless transactions between households.

• Cooperate with your ex-spouse about school visits, activities, and holidays.

  Speak respectfully to your ex-spouse.

• Introduce your child to new romantic partners only if you are sure the partner will have

  a significant and long-term role in the household. Do not model "disposable" dating

  relationships. If partners stay the night, this should be conducted after the child has

  shown he or she is comfortable with the person and is fully aware of the commitment

  involved in the relationship.

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I conveniently represent clients in the Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia Counties, the towns of Wayne, Radnor, Philadelphia, King of Prussia, Paoli, Devon, Berwyn, Newtown Square, Villanova, Bryn Mawr, Haverford, Ardmore, Lower Merion, Media, Wallingford, and Swarthmore, and throughout Pennsylvania.


© 2015 by Elizabeth L. Bennett, Esquire. All rights reserved.


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