What are the Pennsylvania laws concerning children's rights in the event of a parent's incarceration?

Understanding Children's Rights in Pennsylvania During Parental Incarceration

When a parent in Pennsylvania faces incarceration, the repercussions extend far beyond their personal liberty. The children of incarcerated parents encounter a unique set of challenges that the legal system aims to address. Pennsylvania law seeks to balance the rights of children with public safety concerns and the rights of the incarcerated parent.

Under Pennsylvania law, the primary consideration in any case affecting a child is the child's best interests. This standard is applied universally across various legal scenarios, including those involving parental incarceration. When a parent is incarcerated, several key legal areas are affected, including custody arrangements, visitation rights, and child support obligations.

Custody Arrangements

In situations where one parent is incarcerated, the other parent typically assumes primary custody. If the other parent is absent or unfit, alternative arrangements must be made. This may involve granting custody to another family member or placing the child in foster care. The courts strive to maintain consistency and stability in the child's life while considering their need for continued contact with the incarcerated parent.

Visitation Rights

Pennsylvania acknowledges the importance of maintaining the parent-child relationship despite incarceration. Accordingly, courts may grant visitation rights to incarcerated parents unless such contact is deemed harmful to the child's welfare. The Department of Corrections facilitates these visitations and promotes programs that support parent-child bonds despite the constraints of imprisonment.

Child Support Obligations

Incarceration does not absolve a parent of their financial responsibilities towards their children. Pennsylvania law allows for modifications to child support orders based on changes in circumstances, including a parent's incarceration. However, this does not mean that support obligations are put on hold indefinitely; instead, reasonable accommodations are made based on the incarcerated individual's assets and earning capacity.

The courts have shown a willingness to adapt to ensure that children's needs are met without placing undue hardship on the incarcerated parent. For example, in Fernandez v. Fernandez, a 2014 case, the Pennsylvania Superior Court upheld a decision to temporarily suspend child support obligations during the father's incarceration but reinstated them upon his release.

Additional Protections for Children

Pennsylvania has also implemented initiatives like the Family Service Plan (FSP), which assists families dealing with parental incarceration. The FSP emphasizes maintaining family ties and preparing parents for reentry into society and family life.


The state of Pennsylvania recognizes the profound impact parental incarceration can have on children. Laws and policies are designed to safeguard children's rights and welfare while respecting parental relationships and responsibilities. As society evolves and awareness grows, these laws are subject to change to better serve affected families.