When can I change a custody agreement in Pennsylvania?
If you and your ex entered into a custody agreement, formal or informal, written or not, and something serious occurs affecting the welfare of a child, whether your divorce was final a month or a year ago or more, the court will expect you to act immediately in the best interests of the child.
First of all, you should know that Pennsylvania does not require that the support or custody of children be an official, document-supported part of a divorce. Unfortunately, many lawyers, typically the expensive, full-service, business by office appointment lawyers, will not tell you that and will file a complex multi-count divorce involving the children or prepare an agreement concerning your kids whether or not you need, want or ask for it.
Most states do require that the children be an official part of a divorce, but not in Pennsylvania. That goes a long way toward keeping a simple, uncontested, no-fault divorce a low-cost divorce. So, if you and your spouse are satisfied with the support and custody arrangements that you already have, you can continue with those arrangements before, during and after the divorce. Once the divorce is final, you will no longer be spouses, but you will still be parents with access to your local court should circumstances change (or need to change) regarding child support and/or custody.
If you are going into your divorce having been separated only a month or two (or less or not at all), support and custody issues may still be in a state of flux and you should consider making a professionally prepared agreement part of your divorce. Whether or not you decide to have such an agreement, things can happen after the divorce where one or both parents decide that the custody arrangements need a minor or major adjustment. Those things may happen soon after the divorce or a year or more later. Changes in the health of a child or a parent, changes in employment, undesirable changes in a parent’s lifestyle and/or living arrangements are examples.
In the event such a change renders the current custody arrangements to be no longer in the best interest of a child, the court would expect responsible parents to make the necessary adjustments on their own or, if one parent is unwilling, through the court. An obvious example would be if a parent developed a problem with drugs or alcohol such that the welfare of the child became endangered. If that happened even as soon as just a month after the divorce, the court would expect you to act at once. On the other hand, if one parent decides that he/she wishes that he/she had not conceded certain custody terms to the other parent for some personal reason unrelated to the child’s welfare, the original arrangement is likely to be enforced by the court. That sometimes happens when an ex, without good reason, decides not to like the other party’s new significant other and seeks to change custody out of spite. Such an ex will come into court seeking a change for the wrong reason thinking that the court can be convinced (or hoodwinked) to make the change. Good luck with that. If you think that you can come up with a story which the court has not heard before, you’ve been watching too much TV.