QUESTION AND ANSWER SESSION WITH FAMILY LAW ATTORNEY MINDY SNYDER REGARDING CUSTODY AND STEP-PARENT.
Is Custody automatically 50/50 between parents?
The direct answer is no. Parents, in almost all situations, will have shared legal custody which is the obligation to share with each other all major medical, educational and religious decisions. The physical custody schedule is where most clients present this question.
There are 16 factors which the Court must address to decide physical custody. All 16 factors are set forth at our firm website at Liebmann Family Law. The goal of the Court is to determine the best interest of the child. But it does not stop there. The Court must also determine which parent is likely to encourage and permit frequent and continuing contact with the other parent. The Court also looks at which parent has historically performed most parental duties on behalf of the child. As to the current living situation, the Court looks at which parent can provide stability and continuity in the child’s education, family life and community life. Specifically, the Court must determine which parent is likely to attend to the daily physical, emotional, developmental, educational and special needs of the child.
In the event it is in the child’s best interest, then a 50/50 schedule would be Ordered. Remember though, 50/50 does not always mean the same thing to everybody. What it means to the court is that in a year, each party has an equal number of overnights. A typical schedule is one parent has Monday and Tuesday overnights, the other parent has Wednesday and Thursday overnights, and the parents alternate the weekend. Another proposed schedule is rotating weeks.
My Spouse has been helping me raise my child for years, with no contact or support from the biological parent – Can my spouse adopt my child?
If a stepparent wants to become the legal parent of the child - with all the same rights, entitlements and obligations as a biological parent, he or she must adopt the child. The ease of having a stepparent adopt your child depends on the existing role of the other biological parent. If the other parent is willing to give up their parental rights, the adoption proceeds by consent. This would be considered a voluntary relinquishment of parental rights.
If that parent is unwilling, there are grounds for the rights of that parent to be terminated involuntarily by the Court.
What are the grounds for involuntary termination that are most often used in Pennsylvania for an adoption?
In Pennsylvania, the Grounds for Involuntary Termination, are set forth by statute. In most situations where the biological parent has not had contact with the child for an extended period, there are usually two ways that are legally appropriate to terminate their rights.
The rights of a parent regarding a child may be terminated if the parent, by conduct continuing for a period of six months immediately preceding the filing of the Petition for Involuntary Termination, has evidenced a settled purpose of relinquishing his or her parental claim to a child or has refused or failed to perform parental duties. Another basis for termination is if the repeated and continued incapacity, abuse, neglect or refusal of the parent has caused the child to be without essential parental care and the conditions cannot or will not be remedied by the parent.
The Court, in terminating the rights of a parent, must give primary consideration to the developmental, physical and emotional needs and welfare of the child. At a hearing the Court closely examines the bond that the child has, if any, with the biological parent. The Court will then examine the bond that the child has with the stepparent.
Meeting with an attorney to discuss your individual situation is the best way to determine if this legal burden can be met.
What must be done to begin the adoption process?
In Pennsylvania, you and your spouse must obtain a Pennsylvania Child Abuse Clearance, a Pennsylvania Criminal History Clearance and FBI Fingerprint Clearance. We can help guide you as to how to obtain these forms.
Is a Court appearance required for a Stepparent adoption?
Yes. If the biological parent consents to the adoption, it will be only one court appearance. If, however a biological parent’s rights must be involuntarily terminated, it is a two-step process.
Your child is required to be at the final adoption hearing. It is a beautiful and formal procedure which legally confirms the bonds which already exist between your spouse and your child.
How will the adoption effect child support?
The adoption will terminate the future support obligations of the biological parent whose rights are being terminated. However, past due obligations (arrears) are not discharged and can still be pursued if there is an outstanding Court Order for support.
As in all legal matters, the answer to a few questions often raises more questions. At Liebmann Family Law we offer a free consultation to discuss all questions. Liebmann Family Law in Newtown is one of a handful of firms in Bucks County that focuses exclusively on family law and related issues: Contested and Uncontested divorce, Child custody and visitation, Child Support, Spousal Support and alimony; Pre-nuptial and post-nuptial agreements, Division of property, Wills and estate planning; Probate of wills, Grandparents’ rights, and Adoption.
Please contact our office to arrange a free consultation. www.Liebmannfamilylaw.com or (215)860-8200.