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Know the Laws: Pennsylvania

UPDATED May 25, 2017

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Please consider getting help from a legal organization in your area before proceeding with court action regarding custody issues.  You can visit PA Where to Find Help for local resources and legal assistance.

After a custody order is in place

back to topIf a custody order is already in place, how can I get it changed?

Because custody is decided in the best interest of the child, an order is not usually permanent.  If a custody order is already in place, either party can ask the judge to change it by filing a petition for a modification of custody.*

To modify (change) a custody order, you will need to go to the court that gave you the order, even if you have moved.  Generally, once a court has heard a case, that court will keep the case, even if you move to another state.  If you have moved, you can ask the judge to change the jurisdiction (transfer the case) to the new state that you are in although this is often hard to do, especially if the other parent disagrees.  See Can I change the state where my case is being heard? for more information about transferring a case to another state.

If you would like to change a custody order because of military deployment, see The effect of military deployment on custody/visitation for more information.

Modifying a custody order or changing the jurisdiction is often complicated and, as with all custody issues, we recommend that you talk to a lawyer about this.  Go to our PA Finding a Lawyer page to find someone who can help you.

* 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 5338

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back to topCan I change the state where my case is being heard?

If you, your child(ren), the other parent, or anyone acting as parent has moved to another state, you may be able to change the state where the custody case is being heard.  You will have to ask the judge who is hearing the case to consider allowing the case to be heard in another state.  If the judge finds that the child, the parents or anyone acting as the parent does not have significant contact with the original state, or if they are not presently living in the state, s/he will consider changing the state where the case is heard based on the legal principle that Pennsylvania is an “inconvenient forum.”*

The judge will consider several factors when deciding whether or not Pennsylvania is an inconvenient forum, including:

  • Whether domestic violence has occurred and is likely to occur in the future, and which state can offer the best protection to you and your child(ren);
  • How long your child has lived outside of Pennsylvania;
  • How far the Pennsylvania court is from the court in the state where you would like the case to be heard;
  • Your financial situation and the financial situation of the other parent;
  • The location of any evidence that would be important to the custody case, including your child's testimony;
  • The ability of the Pennsylvania court and the other state's court to resolve the issue quickly and how difficult it would be to present the necessary evidence to the court; and
  • How well each court knows the facts and issues of your case.*
Changing where the case is heard is often complicated, and as with all custody issues, we strongly recommend that you talk to a lawyer about this.  You can go to our PA Finding a Lawyer page to find someone who can help you or write to our Email Hotline.

* 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 5427(a)-(b)

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WomensLaw.org would like to thank Ellen Adler and Sharon Lopez at the Pennsylvania Coalition against Domestic Violence for their assistance with a prior version of this page.

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