Legal Issues Involving Children

by: Heather L. Paterno

Child Custody

When parents are unable to agree on custody and visitation schedules regarding their minor children, they have the option of seeking court intervention in creating a custody order, which is essentially a court-ordered directive that dictates which party has custody of the child on specific days. The majority of the courts of Central Pennsylvania mandate a conciliation process, which takes place after one party has filed a complaint for custody. This conciliation conference, or mediation, is held with the parties and their counsel in the presence of a court-appointed mediator, or conciliator. More often than not, the parties are able to reach an agreement regarding the custody and visitation schedule of their child(ren) at the conciliation. The conciliation conference officer then prepares an order which is presented to a Judge for signing, thereby binding the parties to the agreed-upon schedule.

If the parties are unable to agree on a custody schedule at the conciliation conference, the matter is scheduled for a hearing before a county Judge. At the hearing, the parties present testimony and evidence under oath of their ability to raise the child. The Judge may also choose to hear testimony from the child; however, the child’s preference alone is not determinative of who will ultimately gain custody. Upon hearing testimony from both sides, the Judge will then make a determination of custody based upon the best interest of the child. This decision becomes a binding order of court. Custody orders are always modifiable based on a change of circumstances or by agreement between the parties. When the child reaches the age of 18, he/she has reached the age of majority and the custody order becomes obsolete.

Child Support

Pennsylvania law provides that each parent is obligated to financially support their child. If one party has primary custody of a child, he or she may file an action in the county in which they reside, and against the other parent, for support of the minor child(ren). The parties will be ordered to appear before a conference support officer, and must bring thei previous year’s tax return along with a recent pay stub. The support officer will then calculate the parties’ monthly net incomes, add them together, and apply that figure to a support scale, which has been pre-determined by the Pennsylvania State Legislature. That scale provides a guideline of how much of the parties’ combined income should go toward raising their child or children. The support officer will then allocate the percentage of the child support to each party, based on that party’s percentage of the combined net income.

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