How can I become the legal custodian?

divorce attorney Jill DuffyQuestion:

I was divorced in Pennsylvania with no child custody arrangement. We worked it out where our kids stayed with each parent for a week. My ex-wife got a job in Arizona and has lived there for several years. The kids go live there in the summer, but stay with me the rest of the year.

What are the legal steps I can take to either claim full custody or be named the legal custodian for decisions about their schooling, etc.?


First, let me preface my answer by stating that I am not licensed to practice law in the state of Pennsylvania, and I am not licensed to practice law in the state of Arizona. The information in the article is general in nature. You should contact an attorney in your jurisdiction immediately to discuss the specifics of your case and your options.

In order to become the legal custodian for your children, if there is no other custody order regarding those children, you will need to file a petition with the court in the children’s home state. Pennsylvania has adopted the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA). The UCCJEA defines a home state as the state in which the child immediately preceding the time involved lived with his parents, a parent, or a person acting as parent, for at least 6 consecutive months, and in the case of a child less than 6 months old the state in which the child lived from birth with any of the persons mentioned.

Once a Pennsylvania judge determines that he or she has the ability to make orders regarding those children (that he or she has jurisdiction over the children), the judge can decide who should be awarded custody. The judge will make a custody decision in the best interests of the children.

Although coming to an agreement with your spouse about who should have custody is preferred, judges in Pennsylvania have the final say as to what the custody arrangement will be. The law in Pennsylvania explicitly states that children cannot be dealt with in the same way property is dealt with in settlement agreements – children are not property. Pennsylvania judges retain the power to make the final decision, but will be likely to agree with a decision made by parents that is in the child’s best interest.

You should contact an attorney who is licensed in Pennsylvania to further discuss the specifics of your situation. Cordell & Cordell does have divorce lawyers in Pennsylvania.


Jill A. Duffy is an Associate Attorney in the Troy, Mich., office of Cordell & Cordell. She is licensed to practice in the state of Michigan. Ms. Duffy received her BA in Psychology and Spanish and graduated Magna Cum Laude from Oakland University. She received her Juris Doctor from Michigan State University College of Law and graduated Magna Cum Laude.  

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