New Custody Law On Guv’s Desk
In a surprise vote earlier this week, the Pennsylvania House passed HB1639, the sweeping custody reform legislation that has been held up in committee for nearly ten years. This bill, awaiting the governor’s signature, is intended to assuage the concerns of father’s rights groups while codifying the case law that has governed Pennsylvania’s custody disputes for decades. While it does not create a presumption of shared physical custody, the bill eliminates gender bias, requires a written explanation of explicit criteria for deciding custody disputes, expands the scope of crimes that the courts must consider when awarding custody, and outlines the steps that a parent must take to remove children from the state.
As reported by WHYY:
Legislation that would change the way Pennsylvania handles child custody cases is on its way to Gov. Rendell’s desk.
House Bill 1639, sponsored by State Rep. Kathy Manderino, would prohibit courts from awarding custody to a particular parent based solely on gender. Manderino’s district covers all or parts of East Falls, Manayunk and Roxborough.
“The ultimate goal of our child custody system should be the best interest of the child,” Manderino said in a statement.
Under the bill, courts will also have to disclose their reasons for awarding custody to one party.
“Failure by the courts to explain custody decisions often leaves the parents and families frustrated, and can lead to resentment and continued hostility in the future,” Manderino’s statement said.
The bill would also give grandparents more rights in such cases.
Manderino said she hopes her bill will make custody hearings less contentious. The bill awaits a signature from Rendell to become law.
The Pennsylvania Bar Institute and PBA Family Law Section will be sponsoring seminars to discuss the contours of the new law, if it is signed, in December and January.