What is the Pennsylvania process for modifying visitation orders?

Understanding the Modification of Visitation Orders in Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, as in many states, the welfare of the child is the paramount concern when determining custody and visitation arrangements. There may come a time when these arrangements, once thought to be set in stone, need to be modified to better serve the child's interests. Modifying visitation orders is a legal process that requires understanding the state's specific requirements and procedures.

Initiating the Process

To begin the modification process, the party seeking a change must file a petition with the court that issued the original visitation order. This generally involves completing specific forms that can be obtained from the county courthouse or online through the Pennsylvania court system's website.

Grounds for Modification

A visitation order may be modified if there has been a substantial change in circumstances since the original order was made. Examples include relocation, changes in employment or work schedules, issues related to the child's education or health, or concerns about the child's safety and welfare with their current visitation arrangement.

The Legal Standard

The court applies a standard based on the best interests of the child when considering visitation modifications. This includes assessing factors such as:

Court Proceedings

After filing a petition for modification, a hearing is typically scheduled where both parties can present evidence and argue their case. Witness testimonies, including those from experts such as child psychologists, may be pivotal.

Consensual Modifications

If both parties agree on changing the visitation schedule, they can submit a consent order to the court for approval without going through a formal hearing. This is often a faster and less adversarial process.

Historical Example

An illustrative example from Pennsylvania's legal history is Shields v. Shields, where significant changes in one parent's work schedule led to a successful petition for modification of visitation rights to ensure that both parents could maintain meaningful relationships with their children.

Enforcement of Modified Orders

Once an order is modified, it is legally binding. If one party fails to adhere to the new terms, they may be held in contempt of court and face penalties such as fines or even jail time.

Seeking Legal Advice

Navigating the process of modifying visitation orders can be complex. Seeking advice from an experienced family law attorney can help ensure that all procedures are properly followed and that your rights are protected throughout the process.