What are the Legal Rights of Non-Custodial Parents in Pennsylvania?
In a divorce, it is common for parents to want to split time with their children. However, this is not always possible for every family. Sometimes, one parent becomes the main caregiver – this parent is known as the "custodial" parent. The other parent is then the "non-custodial" parent.
Reaching an agreement on custody with your former partner is the best-case scenario and you should strive to achieve that. But also be aware of your rights in case you need legal representation to maximize your time with your kids as a non-custodial parent and look out for their best interests.
Rights of Non-Custodial Parents Under Pennsylvania Law
A non-custodial or visiting parent, unlike the primary caregiver, does not have their child living with them most of the time so they see their child less often. Pennsylvania law does not give any automatic rights to the parent who does not have the primary physical custody. The court's decisions regarding custody and visitation are determined on a case-by-case basis, with the child's best interests as the central concern.
That said, there are a couple of general principles that tend to apply in order to promote a healthy parent child relationship:
Right to some form of visitation
Unless there is a compelling reason to believe that any form of contact with the visiting parent would be harmful to the child (like in cases of abuse or severe neglect), most parents can expect to have at least some visitation rights to spend time with their children.
Even in the most challenging situations, courts try to preserve the child’s relationship with both parents, sometimes through supervised visitation, irrespective of what custodial parent wishes.
Right to access information
Part-time parents also have the right to access important information about their kid, like school records and medical information. This right is upheld unless there is a very good reason to restrict it.
Again, while these rights are commonly recognized in family law, they are not automatically granted in full to every noncustodial parent. A parent with a history of abusive behavior, for instance, may not have the same level of access to their child as one without such a history.
In addition to the right to visit and right to access information, here are some other rights you may have as a secondary parent:
- Right to consultation on major decisions: Depending on the type of legal custody granted, you may have the right to be involved in big decisions regarding your children’s education, religious upbringing, and healthcare.
- Right to modification of custody orders: If circumstances change drastically, you have the right to request a change of the physical and legal custody terms, which can include changes to visitation schedules or custody arrangements.
- Right to child support adjustment: If your financial situation has changed, you have the right to request a review and modification of your child support obligations.
- Right to protect child’s welfare: You have the right to take steps to protect your kid’s welfare by reporting any suspected neglect, abuse, or endangerment by the custodial parent.
- Right to parental participation: You have the right to participate in your child’s life; you can attend school functions, extracurricular activities, and be part of important milestones.
- Right to emergency notification: You may have the right to be notified in case of any medical emergencies regarding your child or notable incidents at their school.
- Right to keep personal belongings: Your kids may keep their clothes and other personal effects at both the custodial and noncustodial parent's homes. You have the right to provide a space for them to store their things.
- Right to non-interference: You have the right to expect that the main guardian will not interfere with your relationship with your child. They should respect your scheduled visitation times and not speak negatively about you in front of the kid.
- Right to request police assistance for custody interference: If the custodial parent unlawfully interferes with your visitation rights, you may have the right to seek help from law enforcement.
Visitation Rights of a Non-custodial Parent in Pennsylvania
Visitation rights refer to the legally granted opportunity for the non-residential parent to spend time with their child. When deciding on visitation, the court considers what will be best for the child first and foremost. If both parents can agree on a visitation schedule, the court will usually approve it as long as it serves the child's emotional and physical wellbeing. But if the parents cannot agree, the court will step in to establish a visitation schedule based on the following factors:
- Each parent's living situation and its stability.
- The child's age, needs, and preferences, if they are old enough to express a reasonable preference.
- Each parent's ability to provide a loving and nurturing environment.
- The child's relationship with siblings and other family members.
- The parents' work schedules and availability.
- Any history of abuse or neglect.
Generally speaking, the regular visitation schedule outlines overnight stays, weekends, and certain weekdays. The schedule can be consistent (e.g., every other weekend) or varied based on parents' work schedules and the child's needs.
Beyond this, the court system in Pennsylvania also recognizes supervised visitation. This is a court-ordered arrangement where you can only visit under the supervision of another adult or a professional agency. This type of visitation is mandated when there is a risk that the child might be exposed to potential harm or inappropriate behavior from the noncustodial parent.
Consult with an Experienced Pennsylvania Child Custody Attorney Today
It is against the law for either the custodial or non-custodial parent to deny visitation that has been established by a court order. The primary caregiver cannot refuse the secondary parent's visitation rights for reasons like unpaid child support payments or personal beliefs about the latter’s suitability.
Whether you have the sole, partial or shared custody, or you are the residential or visiting parent, if you are having difficulties with the other parent not following the agreed-upon schedule, or if you need to modify the existing custody arrangement, we can help. Reach out to a family law attorney at Very Law at 412-430-0131 to schedule your free initial consultation.
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