How to Get Sole Custody of My Daughter in Pennsylvania

By Beverly Bird

In Pennsylvania, having sole custody may indicate that you alone have the right to make important decisions regarding your daughter's upbringing or that your daughter lives primarily with you and possibly visits with your spouse. The former is sole legal custody, while the latter is sole physical custody. The court might award you both sole legal and physical custody if your spouse is unfit. Gaining custody rights begins with your divorce complaint.

Step 1

Complete a complaint for divorce and cite your grounds. If you're fighting over custody, you may not be able to qualify for Pennsylvania's simplest no-fault option, which involves your spouse signing an affidavit of consent to the divorce. You can still qualify for a no-fault divorce on grounds of irretrievable breakdown if you've been separated for two years. You can file before the two years elapses, but the court won't finalize your divorce until this time period has passed. Otherwise, you must file on fault grounds, and this is a complicated and rare process in Pennsylvania. You must prove your spouse's fault to the court first, in a separate hearing, before the judge will rule on custody and other issues.

Step 2

Fill out any additional paperwork required by your county. This typically includes a notice to plead, which tells your spouse and the court what issues you want the judge to decide. Check the box for "custody and visitation."

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Step 3

Serve your spouse with a copy of your complaint and the corresponding paperwork. In Pennsylvania, your spouse can sign an acceptance of service, voluntarily taking the papers from you, but if you're fighting over custody, he may not be willing to do this. Your other choices are to mail him a copy by certified mail, but he must sign the receipt; or you can ask a friend or a private process server to hand-deliver the documents. You have 30 days after filing to achieve service or you must start your divorce all over.

Step 4

Attend a parenting seminar if your county requires it, and then go to mediation. At mediation, a trained third party will attempt to help you and your spouse reach an agreement regarding custody. If your spouse consents to giving you sole custody, you can submit a written agreement to the court. If domestic violence is an issue in your marriage, Pennsylvania law allows you to skip mediation, but you must notify the court of the problem.

Step 5

Meet with a conciliator. The court will schedule this conference if you fail to reach an agreement with your spouse at mediation. You can use this opportunity to explain the reasons you think your spouse should not share custody with you, or why he shouldn't have sole custody of your daughter. The conciliator will make a custody recommendation based on the facts you present. If he decides you should have sole custody, this will become a court order and part of your divorce decree. If he feels you should not have sole custody – or if your spouse wants to fight his recommendation for sole custody – either of you can request a trial in front of a judge, so the recommendation isn't binding.

Step 6

Present your case at trial. The judge will decide custody based on what he feels is in your daughter's best interests. Pennsylvania's statutory best interests factors include any history of domestic violence in your family, drug or alcohol abuse by either parent and each parent's mental and physical health. You can present evidence to the court showing why you think your spouse does not meet these criteria.

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What is the Process to File for Child Custody in New Jersey?

References

Related articles

How to File a No Fault Divorce Without a Lawyer

A no-fault divorce simply means that you are not accusing your spouse of doing anything wrong to end your marriage. It’s not the same as an uncontested divorce, in which your spouse offers no legal opposition to the proceedings. With a no-fault divorce, you’re simply giving him less to contest. He cannot argue your grounds, or the fact that you believe your marriage is over. He can only object to the way in which you've asked the court to end the marriage, such as how you'd like your property divided between the two of you.

Illinois State Laws on Obtaining Sole Custody

If you're contemplating divorce or about to start the process, you may be feeling a bit uncertain or even overwhelmed, especially if you have children. However, knowing what to expect and understanding how to navigate the system can greatly reduce any stress you may be feeling. This is especially true if you intend to petition the court for sole custody of your children. In Illinois, the court will only choose this arrangement if it serves the best interests of your child.

How to Get Child Custody If a Parent Refuses to Sign the Papers

Because child custody disputes can be contentious and stressful, family courts encourage parents to settle their disputes on their own. This not only shields the child from the stress of a custody fight, but it also allows the parents the autonomy to work out a custody plan that works with both parents' schedules and the child's needs. When one parent refuses to sign a proposed parenting plan or settle a custody dispute, however, you will need to use the court system to resolve your custody issues.

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