Separation, divorce, and pre-marital relationships all deal with money. Custody deals with children, the most important aspect of most people's lives. If you have turned to the justice system or to a lawyer, it is because you have tried to work things out with the other parent and can't or you have reached a point where you can no longer communicate with that person. When two parents cannot see eye to eye, it helps to have a lawyer who can remain objective and help guide you through the process.
In most circumstances, lawyers have an idea of what the final custody schedule is going to be and can help you understand the potential outcome and reasoning behind it. Agreeing on monetary disputes is simpler than agreeing on custody. You come to an agreement or get a judgment or a decree, divide up the assets, pay the money and it's done. With custody, even though the initial hearing is completed, there are milestones in your child's life that will involve the other parent, in some cases this will bring you back into the courtroom. When dealing with custody, it is important to be guided through the process and recognize that you will have to effectively communicate with the other parent, no matter how hard it is. At Elderkin Law Firm in Erie, PA we look at the big picture to ensure guidance through years of resolution, not just a few weeks of resolution.
Our Matrimonial Law and Litigation attorneys have experience with proceedings at both the initial and appeals levels of custody and support proceedings. Begin today with our Online Evaluation -OR- Schedule a consultation at our office in Erie, PA by calling (814) 456-4000.
In Erie County, there is a two or three phase custody resolution process. First, you file a custody petition, which a lawyer can do for you. Erie County also requires that you go to a four-hour Parenting Seminar. The purpose of the seminar is to help parents understand the child (ren)’s perspective when the parents are going through a custody battle. Oftentimes, when parents have never been through a custody issue before, they forget to look at it through a child’s viewpoint.
Next, you will have a conciliation conference at the court house in which you explain why you are there, what the issues are, and your proposed solution to those issues. You should not just go in and complain, but should rather deliver a rationalized proposal. The other side will then get the opportunity to respond. The conciliator will try to find common ground in any areas at all. Sometimes after spending time in these meetings, parents will come to an understanding and agreement of what the schedule is going to be. If there is no agreement at this level, then a conciliator will either schedule another conciliation conference or come up with a proposed Court Order. If they come up with a proposed court order, they rationalize it, write it and take it to a Judge. The Judge will sign it, and it is issued as a court order. The conciliator also has the ability to suggest certain schedules for certain periods of time. For example, the conciliator may tell the parents to come back in 60 days in order to determine what is or is not working, and to work out a different schedule if needed. If you have a temporary schedule put in place, it is generally not appealable because you will not be able to get in front of a Judge before the
temporary time period is up. If you review for the second time, and are still unable to reach an agreement, the conciliator will have the right to make a decision and make a Court Order.
If you are not satisfied with the Court Order, you may choose to file an appeal. When you file an appeal, you will have a very formal trial in front of a Judge. It is not an informal dialogue like a mediation conference. There is formal evidence, formal witnesses and formal question and answer. The trial may include arguments and post trial statements. The Judge will issue a Custody Order after the trial. Sometimes that is the way custody has to be resolved, but when you rely on a third party who knows nothing about you or your family to make those types of binding family decisions, more often than not both parents will be disturbed with the outcome. It comes at an expense, both emotional and financial.
What if I am a convicted felon or have a criminal record?
If you are a convicted felon, you are required to disclose the fact that you are a convicted felon if the other side does not know. There are certain types of felonies that are more relevant in custody proceedings than other types of felonies, such as statutory rape versus embezzlement. Certain misdemeanors or other convictions may also be relevant in custody matters, such as drug and alcohol offenses.
How will a judge make decisions about child custody and visitation?
Up until about a year ago, Judges were required to use simply what is called "Best Interest Standard," which meant they were supposed to consider whatever was in the best interest of the child. The result of this was a multitude of judicial perspectives and wide discretion. Within the last year and a half, Pennsylvania law has changed dramatically in this field. There are a number of specific categories that the Judges are required to consider when determining what are the best interests. They then write an opinion in order to guide the process. These changes supply us with a blue print of how to try our cases and provide the necessary evidence, as well as bring greater consistency to the process.
What are some of the arrangements that are made for custody?
There are many possible visitation schedules that can be agreed to by the parties or imposed by Court Order if necessary. Some examples are 50-50 custody with a week on, week off pattern or 50-50 custody with a 5-2-2-5 day pattern. Another option is primary custody to one parent with a partial custody pattern of weekends and/or weekdays with either day or overnight time to the other parent.
Who is responsible for paying child support? How is that determined?
A child support obligation is determined by the income of the parents and the custody schedule, either an Order or actual practice. If you have 50-50 custody, the parent with lower income can still file for child support. If you have more than 50 percent custody, you can file for child support regardless of whether you or the other parent has higher income.
What types of payments are included in child support?
There is a monthly child support obligation that is calculated by guidelines set forth by the State. On top of that, if the parents have agreed to private school, or there is a history of the child already being in private school at the time of separation, then the Child Support Office or the Court can allocate those costs between the parents. The same goes for child care costs; for example, if there is after-school care, before-school care, or care over the summer when school is out, it will be allocated between the parents, depending on their respective incomes. Also, if there are any health insurance premiums, uncovered medical expenses, like co-pays, prescriptions, dental or vision, or if your insurance only covers a percentage of costs, then that will also be allocated between the parties based on their incomes. You can also request allocation for reasonable extracurricular expenses.
Say that I would like to see my child in an extracurricular activity, but my spouse doesn't want to. Would I be required to pay all of that or would it be split?
Usually when it is a reasonable cost, it will be split or allocated between the parents. If it is something unreasonably expensive, like a traveling soccer club that costs over $4,000 a year, the Court will probably not allocate it unless it was something being done prior to the separation. If you had jointly decided your child is doing the $4,000 per year soccer club and then you split up, you still have an obligation to help pay for it.
How long do I have to pay child support?
In Pennsylvania, child support must be paid until the child is eighteen and graduated from high school. If a child was held back a year and will not graduate until age nineteen, support will continue because you have to meet both the age and graduation requirements. At some point, the Court will stop the child support if the child is too old or dropped out of or didn't finish high school. Generally the Court will allow for a couple extra years. In Pennsylvania, there is no responsibility for college expenses unless you agreed otherwise in a private agreement. Usually, this comes up in a divorce agreement where the parties agree that they are going to each pay for half of college. Even though in Pennsylvania it is not a legal requirement, if it is agreed to privately, the Court can enforce it.