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Custody Proceedings in PA: A Focus on the Best Interests of the Child

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By Attorney Nichole A. Collins, Family Law Division Leader, Harrisburg, PA

The focus of a custody proceeding is the best interests of the child, and all other considerations are subordinate to the child's best interests, including the interests of the adults. Traditional burdens of proof and presumptions, such as the Tender Years Doctrine, substantial and material changes in circumstances, and concepts of fitness have all given way to the focus upon the best interests of the child.  Even the presumption that a parent has a prima facie right to custody of the child has been subject to attack in favor of an approach requiring the court to consider every factor relevant to the physical, emotional, intellectual, moral and spiritual well-being of a child and in which there is no single overriding factor.  The best interests of the child is similarly the overarching consideration in disputes concerning partial custody and visitation.

A party requesting custody may be best served by undergoing a custody evaluation process.  This process allows for both parties to be interviewed and tested by a licensed psychologist to determine if there are any reasonable concerns regarding parental fitness to have either primary or partial physical custody.  Often times, the evaluator will render an opinion to the court in this regard.  Grandparents may also request such an evaluation where they have standing and are proper parties to the proceeding.  Where the parents lack fitness, the grandparents may serve as a viable alternative for the courts.

You may contact us for a consultation or to discuss your case over the phone toll free at the number above or at www.pennfamilylawyers.com

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