When can a Pennsylvania parent seek to modify a custody order?

As children grow up their needs often change. A child custody arrangement that worked for a toddler may need adjustment as the child starts attending school. One of the parents may have an employment opportunity and seek to relocate, which would require a different custody schedule.

Parents who agree on child custody changes can often do so informally. However, absent temporary minor altercations to an existing Order, even informal agreements should be memorialized as Modified Agreed Custody Orders to enable the Court to be able to enforce the terms of the new agreement should the modified agreement be violated. In cases where one of the parents objects to a proposed change in the existing custody order, then the other parent will need to request that the court alter the child custody order.

Best interests of the child

In any court hearing to modify a custody order, the judge will evaluate the request by determining what is in the best interests of the child. In Pennsylvania, there are 16 best interest factors. Ensuring frequent and continuing contact between the child and each parent is one of the considerations. Some of the others include:

  • Maintaining stability and continuity for the child
  • Availability of extended family
  • Sibling relationships
  • The preference of the child, depending on maturity and judgment
  • Cooperation or lack thereof between the parents

Application of the "best interests" standard is a case-by-case review of the effect the proposed change will have on a child's well-being. If the modification is more parent-centered than child-centered, it is unlikely the court will grant the request.

Relocation requests

In the current economy, it may be necessary to broaden the geographical scope of your job search. Before accepting a new position in a different Pennsylvania town or a different state, it may be wise to consult a Pennsylvania family law attorney to discuss relocation laws which dictate a specific course of conduct to be followed when requesting to relocate.

Relocation is a "change in the residence of the child which significantly impairs the ability of the non-relocating party to exercise custodial rights." An agreement between the individuals with custody rights or court approval is required before moving the child. Moving several hours away might trigger the relocation requirements, because the move could affect weeknight visitation and involve changes for the child, such as attending a new school and making new friends.

Many of the relocation factors are similar to the "best interests" factors. However, the court also looks at preserving the relationship between the non-relocating parent and the child, as well as, how the move will benefit the person requesting it and the child. In the case of a new job, higher earnings potential and the possibility for advancement would provide a financial benefit. A better school district may improve education options for the child.

When a custody arrangement no longer fits the needs of your child or you have an opportunity that requires a move across the state or country, contact an experienced family law attorney for assistance.