When child custody battles become international affairs

Pennsylvania residents who have custody of one or more children may be surprised to learn that international child custody battles and abductions are becoming more common. One instance that exemplifies this growing trend is the abduction of an 8-year-old girl by her mother. The mother is facing criminal charges after illegally taking her daughter to Central America more than 10 years ago. Her case is about to go to trial, but many are wondering why it took so long to charge the mother for the abduction.

Between 2008 and 2013, there were approximately 8,000 documented cases of children being abducted by their parents. The U.S. State Department acknowledges that international abductions are a growing issue and that an alarming number of requests have been made to reunite victims of international abduction with their legal guardians. However, the government estimates that only about 50 percent of children taken to countries with international treaties are returned to their home country. As of 2015, 93 countries have signed an agreement indicating that efforts should be made to return abducted children to their nation of origin.

Although several countries agree that wrongfully removed children should be sent back to their rightful guardians, there are many obstacles blocking the return of thousands of children. Child custody cases are often highly emotional, which makes it difficult for national officials to diplomatically handle the issue. Additionally, parents and guardians with rightful custody in the United States may face numerous financial difficulties if they choose to engage in an international custody battle.

If a parent is still trying to obtain custody of his or her child, an attorney might also be able to gather information and legal resources to formulate a successful bid for custody. A family lawyer could also help those with rightful custody organize visitation agreements to ensure that the other parent doesn’t feel like the child has been taken away forever.

How to seek a child custody order modification

Pennsylvania parents often find that their or their children’s needs change after judges issue final custody orders. Because few families’ situations stay the same forever, judges may determine that it is in the best interests of the children of divorced parents to change a custody order. Parents may seek modifications of custody to accommodate significant changes that occur in children’s or parents’ lives.

Parents must generally be able to prove substantial changes in circumstances for a judge to agree to modify a final custody order. Substantial changes may occur naturally as younger children age and want to spend more time with a non-custodial parent during extended breaks from school. One parent may get a new job that prevents them from complying with the visitation schedule in the original custody order. A non-custodial parent may become concerned about their young children’s safety if a custodial parent starts working at night and might be forced to leave the children alone because they cannot find childcare. Significant changes like these may be incompatible with the original custody order, and a judge may determine a modification is in the best interest of the children.

A parent who wants to get a custody order changed must file a petition for modification with the court that issued the original custody order. It may be difficult to have a case transferred to an out-of-state court, even if one parent has moved. Parents seeking a transfer to another state must ask a judge to allow another state’s court to hear the case.

While parents may work out permanent changes to a child custody or visitation schedule between themselves, these changes are not enforceable unless the original order is modified. Family law attorneys may be able to help parents with their petitions for modifications and other custody issues.

Can a custodial parent relocate with the child?

Pennsylvania law requires a custodial parent to follow a few guidelines before relocating with a child out-of-state. Family law states that the custodial parent, whether an order is in place or not, must get either the consent of the other parent or approval from the courts. Regardless of consent, the court must be notified of the pending relocation to ensure there are no legal ramifications.

Before a relocation order can be signed, the non-custodial parent must be given information about the move and the time to object if they so desire. A notification must be sent to the non-custodial party at least 60 days prior to the move. This notification has to include vital information such as the new address, date of relocation, and names of any person that will be living in the same house as the child. The proper objection form must also be included to give the non-custodial parent the ability to challenge the move.

The court has to sign off on the relocation whether the non-custodial parent agrees with the move or not. If the parent doesn’t object, then the court will usually agree to the relocation and sign the order. However, if there is a disagreement, then a hearing will be held to determine what is in the best interest of the child.

This type of family law situation is relatively common. The courts will make a decision based on several factors that always focus on what is best for the child. These factors include the effect of the move on the child, the reasons for the move, and the relationship between the child and both parents. The court will also take the objections of the non-custodial parent into account.

Source: Pennsylvania Bar Association , “Child Custody “, October 18, 2014

Pennsylvania dad hoping for custody of daughter he hasn’t met

Issues involving child custody for Pittsburgh residents are not uncommon. When a relationship between two parents, whether they are married or not, comes to an end, those parents don’t always see eye to eye on that aspect of family law.

Of course, many of these cases involve parents volleying for custody of a child they have raised together. It is possible, however, that one of the parents angling for custody has never even met the child that he or she wishes to raises. But that’s the circumstance facing one Pennsylvania dad whose daughter was adopted out to another family without his knowledge.

The man was serving in Afghanistan as a contractor back in 2010 when his girlfriend gave birth; she had a girl. However, when he returned to the United States, the woman told him that she’d instead had a son who died shortly after his birth.

In reality, however, the woman had flown from Pennsylvania to Utah to give birth, where she surrendered the child to an adoption agency. However, the man didn’t find out that information until after Utah said he had waited for too long to challenge the adoption.

A court there, however, recently ruled that the man’s constitutional rights were violated by what the girl’s mother had done, and allowed his case to proceed. He is now likely to have a new hearing on his case soon.

Biological parents who wish to re-establish their parental rights in Pennsylvania can work with an experienced family law attorney, who can assist them.

Source: WNEP-TV, “Update: Williamsport Man Gets New Chance at Custody of Child He’s Never Seen,” Dave Bohman, Feb. 26, 2014

Medical decisions parents make for their child can affect custody

Child medical abuse allegations have become increasingly common in hospitals across the country. For those in Pittsburgh who have never heard of it, it is a controversial concept that applies to parents who are either preventing their child from receiving necessary care or pushing for care that could harm the child. When a hospital worker, such as a nurse or doctor, believes a child’s parents are committing child medical abuse, they notify the state. When that happens, child custody comes into question.

One family in Connecticut is currently going through the difficult situation of dealing with child medical abuse allegations.

The family’s 15-year-old daughter suffers from mitochondrial disease. After seeing doctors at one hospital for more than a year, the family followed her gastroenterologist to a new one. At the new hospital, however, the staff dramatically changed the girl’s treatment without consulting the gastroenterologist. The parents complained that they were not kept informed during the decision-making process.

The teenager’s parents grew frustrated and considered removing her from the new hospital’s care. At that point — and after deciding that the teenager’s ailments did not stem from physical causes and that her parents were not giving her the psychiatric care she needed — the hospital reported the parents to the state for medical child abuse.

The state immediately took over custody of the girl, and the parents have been fighting for the last 10 months to get their daughter back.

Cases like this often stem from controversial diagnoses. However, this case clearly shows how parents’ legal custody of their child can be called into question over medical treatment. Pittsburgh parents want what is best for their children, but if the state disputes that, it is important to know that there are ways to fight the allegations and uphold your right to have custody of your child.

Source: The Boston Globe, “No release for Conn. teen caught in hospital dispute,” Neil Swidey and Patricia Wen, Dec. 21, 2013

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