Who has rights to custody of my children?


Unless a court has terminated parental rights, each natural parent has rights to their children.  Courts may restrict those rights through a process often referred to as a "custody action."  A custody action may result in an order of court which grants full custody, partial custody, or supervised visitation.  The best course of action when questions of custody arise involving your children--whether you want to see them but cannot OR have them but wish not to let them go to the other parent--is to seek the advice of an experienced custody attorney before taking matters into your own hands.    

Often agreements can be reached between parents before custody issues are taken to the attention of the court.  It is advisable to allow an attorney to assist you in writing such an agreement in order to avoid missing important points and ensuring that the agreement is valid for enforcement later in case the other parent does not follow the terms.

If such a court order already exists regarding your children, modification of the terms of the custody arrangement may require going back to the judge to request the changes through another "custody action."  On the other hand, it may not.  Consult an experienced custody attorney for the best and most-efficient course of action.


Do I have "grandparent's rights"?


Grandparents may ask a court to allow them to exercise custody rights to their grandchildren in some situations.  As the law in this area is undergoing significant changes at the time of this writing, consult an attorney for the most recent developments as it relates to your specific situation.


Do I have "step-parent's rights"?


Generally speaking, step-parents have a tougher time exercising custody of their step-children than other "relations."  Agreement of the natural parent to allow contact is the most certain avenue of success.  Some situations may provide a step-parent with sufficient grounds to ask a judge for custodial rights, however, if the natural parent is less than cooperative.  These are limited and difficult hurdles to overcome.  Consult an experienced custody attorney as soon as you know your contact with your step-child is ending as the passage of time may affect your case.


Are Custody Actions expensive?


While it is impossible to say what costs will ultimately be incurred in any custody dispute until it is over, it is not true that all custody disputes are expensive.  Costs increase as cooperation between the parties decreases.  In other words, the more quickly an agreement is reached the less expensive custody disputes will be.  Compromising on less significant terms is one way to reach a speedier agreement.

In cases where no agreement between the parties is ever likely to be reached, costs can be lessened by careful strategic planning with the assistance of your attorney.  


Can I move to another county in Pennsylvania or another state altogether? 


Whether you have a custody order governing custody of your children or not, you may not relocate without permission of the other parent or the court, if the other parent does not consent.  The process of getting permission may take several months.  Consult an experienced custody attorney at the first thought of relocating to avoid violating the law.  


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