Q: 5 years-ago I was granted full custody of my two sons. 3 years ago, their father changed jobs and had more stability in his life so I thought 50/50 custody would be good for them. This change was not done through the courts, so the last custody agreement on file is still the one from years ago with me having full custody. I don’t believe 50/50 is working well anymore now that the boys are older, and I would like to have full custody. Their father does not take them to any medical appointments, does not attend their IEP meetings or parent teacher conferences, will not bring them to sport practices on his weeks, does not make sure they’re doing any of their homework, and they just don’t seem to be a priority in general at his house. They also don’t have a bedroom at his house, they sleep in the living room. I was not happy when I found that out, but the boys didn’t have a problem with it when they were younger, so I let it go. Now that they’re older, it’s not okay anymore. So, my question is, which paperwork do I need to file since the 50/50 was a verbal agreement between us for the last 3 years? (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: Even though the last order was full custody with you, the pattern over the years has transitioned to 50/50 status quo now. I believe you need to file for a modification. It sounds like you have great reasons, but the change may not happen right away, unless the father, and the sons, agree to it. It will be better for you if the change in custody does not involve a change in school district. I would consult with and hire a custody lawyer if you can.
Q: I brought my daughter home with me the day she left the hospital. She is not biologically mine. We did go to court and I was granted sole full custody with the biological mom in court consenting. She willingly gave custody to me. My daughter is about to be 4 and all the sudden the biological mom has decided she wants to be her mom! I need help asap! (Carrick, PA)
A: Her parental rights were not terminated, otherwise she would have no chance. She will need to file a motion for custody and start the long process of getting back in her child’s life. If she is sincere and has overcome the impediments that prevented her initially from being a parent, she has a chance of gradually and slowly establishing time with the child. Fortunately for you, you have established legal standing to stay in this child’s life for the foreseeable future. I would consult with a child custody lawyer.
Q; Father touched a 10-year old girl sexually. The case is still going on. I want full custody and to have father’s rights taken away. (Ben Avon, PA)
A: Terminating another parent’s parental rights is very difficult unless the other parent consents to it. I think what you are asking is whether you can get full custody to the exclusion of father because of the allegation against him. You can go into court on an Emergency Petition regarding the allegation and see if the judge temporarily modify custody. Your motion will have more bite to it if on the sexual assault case, police are contacted, charges are being investigated or filed and a forensic examination has been scheduled. As far as permanently changing custody, first, he needs to be convicted or plead guilty. If that happens, you can always petition the court for what you want. In custody cases, there are sixteen custody factors a court needs to consider in deciding a custody order. Talk to family law lawyer, they get in to this kind of stuff.
Q: My daughter’s mother left state with my child ten years ago without permission. We have a court orders custody agreement spelling out exact days and times for my visits and expressly starting a move out of state isn’t permitted. The courts and law enforcement were no help in finding or bringing my daughter home. Through sleuthing of my own, I FINALLY found her, have solid proof (mother wrote address on court papers) and have a paper trail documenting everything over the last decade. Do I have a case for getting my daughter back, even though it’s been so long? Child has been residing in Pennsylvania for 10 years if that makes a difference. (Baden, PA)
A: You need to see an experienced family law attorney with whom you can share the entire story which we do not have here, and which is hard to relate in this limited forum. My first question is in this day of electronic communications, how has it taken 10 years to find your daughter? If your reasons are legitimate-identity changes, subterfuge, etc., it does sound like she violated a court order. An attorney can tell you where to file. Jurisdiction still may be in Allegheny County, as I assume the child was born here and there was an open custody case, albeit ten years ago. As for criminal charges, such as interference with custody, you will have to run that past the DA. The ten-year period that has passed does not help you unless, as mentioned, there were legitimate reasons.
Q: I am in a high conflict custody case where the father is constantly in contempt for support and continuously tries to force his way back into our lives. He has several debts with me, most recently for an accident he had while driving one of my cars. I’m just trying to get him to acknowledge his debt or negotiate a way he will pay for the repairs. In doing so, he continuously tells me I am harassing him via email. And I constantly get emails from him that he is going to engage the ADA so we can talk about my problems which is comical at best. I continue to go out on a limb to support his relationship with his daughter – thanks to the courts forcing him on us in the first place after he was absent for 2 years. I shouldn’t have to babysit his time with her so giving him a car is seemingly my best option. I have recently filed for relocation with the court and will hopefully be able to put more distance between us and ultimately accountability on him where it belongs, but these threats of harassment are simply ridiculous. Any advice on how I can get in front of it by sending him a certified letter or anything? (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: Keep the communications between the lawyers. If there are no lawyers, do what makes sense. Harassment requires communication for no legitimate purpose. If your emails are purely for legitimate reasons you should not have a problem. Keep all your emails. If you need to send an important document, send it both certified mail, return receipt, and regular mail. Keep all copies of correspondence. If what constitutes harassment continues, talk to the police or an Assistant District Attorney. It sounds like you need an attorney to help you.
Q: We know a 14-year-old child who has been living with her mother and grandmother, but the mother lost custody and it was given to the grandmother. However, the mother still stays in the home when she is not allowed to and is still on drugs, but the child is treated poorly for reporting her mother and is too afraid to do it again. Can she choose to go to a non-relative that has been helping her? Her grandmother is telling her if she reports them, she will go to a family she doesn’t know, and she can’t choose the person who has been helping her. (Brookline, PA)
A: There is a general rule in PA that at age 14 a child can decide where they wish to live (if reasonable and safe). Also, if the family friend is willing to take her, and would meet a background check and home assessment from Children Youth and Families of Allegheny County, and if no other appropriate placement person came forward, CYF may very well place the child with that person. CYF will not place the child with her 18-year-old boyfriend or someone with a deplorable home or lengthy criminal history. I would speak with an attorney in your area versed in child custody and juvenile dependency.
Q: After an argument my boyfriend, he had me arrested and then filed a PFA that included my son. My son was in no way involved in the argument until I was told to leave the house and wanted to take him with me. (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: I am not sure of all the facts here, like is this child both of yours, is the house your boyfriend’s or yours, etc.? Regardless, if the PFA has been filed but no hearing has been held yet, you should defend it at the time of the hearing. There is not much you can do while the Emergency PFA Order is in effect. At the final hearing, a judge can grant the petition, deny the petition or find it does not apply to your son if granted. Additionally, most PFA’s are settled by agreement. Perhaps you can settle it in a way that the PFA does not apply to your son. If you want to see your son pending the emergency PFA order, talk to an attorney about filing an emergency motion for custody pending PFA hearing.
Q: My son has been given total control for the choice of to see me on my visitations or not, with coached visitation. He has been brainwashed for the past 10 years of his life and now that the grandparents have got total control of him. It is worse than before. (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: The family courts usually take the view that a child can make their own decisions at age 14. Each case is different. I have seen this happen. If a 10-year old child cannot be forced to see a parent, the court will usually not force visitation.
Q: I am in bad health and do home dialysis. She is staying with me now and has been for about 6 months. I have applied for government housing but can only get a 1 bedroom unless I have legal custody. I am on social security and do not draw very much so I need to know what is my best option? (Crafton, PA)
A: You should have something in writing signed by the parents (if there is a father that has custody rights at this point) which transfers temporary physical custody of the child to you. The optimum method of doing this would be to obtain an Order of Court, signed by a Judge. This will be easier if done by an attorney. If you cannot afford one, you may be able to seek legal help if you are under a certain income level. It will be easier if the father consents. The other option is to ask Social Security if they will just take a letter signed by both parents. This would be less expensive. You may also want to ask the school in which she will be enrolled in and whatever medical providers she will see, what type of document they need. You may also want to consult with an attorney regarding having CYF involved. Doing so, may or may not be an advantage to you, depending on your entire situation.
Q: My kids usually go every other weekend to see my ex. It concerns me as he has no running water in his house. I don’t know if I should send them knowing the living conditions of their dad. (West Newton, PA)
A: I am sorry to hear that. You can probably file a motion to modify custody. It is a health and safety concern. First, you may want to investigate any programs that assist those that cannot afford utilities. If you can find a referral and he will not take advantage of it, you may have to go the legal route.