WYOMISSING-READING-BERKS COUNTY GRANDPARENTS AND GREAT-GRANDPARENTS ATTORNEY
Attorney Jana R. Barnett represents grandparents and great-grandparents who seek custody or visitation rights, as well as parents who believe that grandparents and great-grandparents should not have so much access.
The custody law gives grandparents the right to seek physical and legal custody when they:
- stand in loco parentis to the child
- do not stand in loco parentis
to the child, but
- whose relationship with the child began either with a parent's consent or under a court order; and
- who has assumed or is willing to assume responsibility for the child; and
- the child either:
- has been found to be a dependent child in juvenile court
- is substantially at risk due to parental abuse, neglect, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, or incapacity; or
- has lived with the grandparent for at least 12 consecutive months, is removed from the grandparent's home by the parents, and the grandparent files for custody within 6 months of removal
In addition, both grandparents and great-grandparents may file for partial physical custody or supervised physical custody where:
- the person is a parent or grandparent of a deceased parent
- the child's parents have been separated for at least 6 months, or filed for divorce or annulment
- the child has lived with the grandparent or great-grandparent for at least 12 consecutive months, is removed from the grandparent's or great-grandparent's home by the parents, and the grandparent or great-grandparent files for custody within 6 months of removal
Where proceedings were filed before January 24, 2011, Pennsylvania law allows grandparents to get physical custody, legal custody and visitation of their grandchildren under certain circumstances.
Grandparents may obtain physical and/or legal custody if a Court finds that:
- The grandparents “have genuine care and concern for the child;”
- The grandparents' relationship with the child began with the consent of one or both of the child's parents or pursuant to a Court Order; and,
- The grandparents acted as the child's parents for at least twelve (12) months;
grandparents were responsible for the child
after the child was found to be a dependent
- The child is deemed to be substantially at risk because of parental abuse, neglect, drug or alcohol abuse or mental illness. The court may issue a temporary Order, as well as a permanent Order.
Grandparents may be granted partial custody and/or visitation rights under three (3) different circumstances:
- If one of the child's parents has died (23 Pa.C.S. § 5311);
- When married parents have been separated for at least six months (23 Pa.C.S. § 5312); or,
- When the child has lived with the grandparents for at least twelve months, and is removed from the grandparents' home by his or her parents (23 Pa.C.S. § 5313).
Among other things, the Court will consider the amount of personal contact the grandparents and child had before the grandparents sought custody and/or visitation. The grandparents will be given partial custody and/or visitation if the Court finds that visitation rights would be in the best interest of the child and would not interfere with the parent-child relationship.
In Berks County, when a child custody action is filed, Family Court Administration requires most parties to attend parenting classes called “Children in the Middle,” and schedules the parties for mediation, and custody conciliation. (Parents are not required to take these classes if they file a stipulation with the custody complaint or petition to modify custody.)
“Children in the Middle” classes are held at The Family Guidance Center, 1235 Penn Avenue, Suites 205-206, Wyomissing, PA 19610. The cost of the parenting class is $45 per person. Parents to not attend classes together.
Mediation is held at the courthouse, at a cost of $85 per person. In mediation in Berks County, the parties have an opportunity to speak with the mediator privately, as well as together. The mediator will notify the Court and the parties' attorneys who attended the mediation, and the outcome.
If the parties do not reach an agreement during mediation, they will attend custody conciliation at the 7th floor of the County Services Center, 633 Court Street, Reading, PA 19601. The Custody Masters will listen to the parties (and perhaps the child), then recommend that the Court enter a specific Order. The Custody Masters also may recommend that a custody evaluation be performed at the parties' expense. If neither party appeals the recommendation within twenty (20) days of the date that the recommendation is mailed, the recommended Order will become an Order of the Court.
Child custody orders may be modified when it is in the best interest of the child to do so.
The parties can reach agreements at any point in the process, and ask the Court to make their agreements a Court Order.
Regardless of whether the parties reach an agreement, they are required to attend “Children in the Middle.”
The Berks County Court of Common Pleas attaches an Appendix to custody Orders. These standard requirements are a roadmap for putting the best interests of the children first. The Appendix is part of the order and if these requirements are not followed, parties can ask the Court to take action. Many Family Court judges utilize Appendixes B and C, which were prepared by The Honorable James M. Bucci.
To read the appendixes, statutes and related materials, please see "Related Links" on the right.
If you would like to speak with Attorney Jana R. Barnett about the rights of grandparents to seek custody or visitation, and learn how she can assist you, call her at 610-478-1860, or click here to send her an e-mail, and she will reply as quickly as possible.