A “Brave New World” of Dog Custody Issues? Maybe…

As our lovable and affectionate pooches increasingly shift from being “man’s best friend”, sleeping in the barn, guarding the sheep and goats to, for a variety of reasons, something more, with sweaters, play-dates, and urban dog parks, what happens when a couple breaks up and their dog served in a de facto childlike role?  Who obtains custody of the beloved pooch?

Unlike some interesting trends in several other states, Pennsylvania law is very clear on this issue.  To the chagrin of dog lovers, dogs are simply treated as personal property, like the couch, television, or tractor.  Under applicable Pennsylvania Law, “all dogs are hereby declared to be personal property and subjects of theft”. 3 Pennsylvania Statutes § 459-601.  Animal cruelty laws are on the books to prevent abuse to animals, obviously.

The Superior Court of Pennsylvania, when presented with the case of a dog owner trying to enforce a consensual, formal, signed and notarized, “dog visitation” schedule in a recorded marital settlement agreement denied the requested relief stating, ”Appellant is seeking an arrangement analogous, in law, to a visitation schedule for a table or a lamp”.  The court held that formal shared custody arrangements of dogs are not enforceable in Pennsylvania.  Desanctis v. Pritchard, 2002 PA Super 221.

Is this how a particular court would really look at the matter in small claims litigation, however?  If a party sued in tort for the return of a dog, in similar manner to the return of a tractor, would the magistrate or judge look only to the official registration and possession of the dog?

Would the court, if ownership and registration was unclear, possibly also look at “health, safety and welfare” factors such as, “who walks the dog more”, “who pays for the vet bills”, and “who has more time to care for the dog” in a similar manner to a custody trial and the standard statutory “best interests of the minor child” factors?  Would that depend on whether the magistrate or judge was an affectionate dog owner?  Would it depend upon whether you were in a rural or urban county?  Can a court legally consider those factors if state law considers a dog protected from abuse, but personal property like a, “a table or lamp”?

Interesting questions.

 

All content on this website is intended for general information only, and should not be construed as legal advice, tax advice, or financial advice applicable to your particular situation.  No attorney-client relationship is created unless and until a binding written representation agreement is signed by both you and our office. Before taking any action based on this website, you should consider your personal situation and seek professional advice.

The Name Change Process in Pennsylvania – Legally make your Saul into a Paul

 

There are many reasons you may need to tangle with the Pennsylvania name change process.  A few basic examples being:  (1) seeking to resume your maiden name after a painful Divorce; (2) having your recently adopted child take your surname to reflect the new relationship;  (3) fixing a hospital mistake on your birth certificate to express your parents true intent;  (4) changing your birth name if your parents picked an overly creative or horrible one (think, “Apple”, or “Adolf”);  and/or (5) if the Spirit strikes you down on the road to Damascus, and you are told to do so by a higher authority.

Under Pennsylvania Law, any person desiring to change his or her name must file a petition with the Court of Common Pleas of the county where he or she resides.  The petition must set forth both the petitioner’s desire and intention to change his or her name and a detailed explanation of the petitioner’s legally valid reason for seeking the change.

Once the petition is filed, an order will be issued directing you to give notice to the general public and to other relevant parties.  You must publish in two newspapers of general circulation your name change plans and also give written notice to any non-petitioning parent of a child whose name will be changed.  A formal court hearing will be scheduled within three months.

At the hearing any person with standing may appear and object with a valid “lawful” objection (an issue into itself).  You must also prove that you gave the required legal notice and submit to the court’s approval official searches showing that there are no outstanding judgments against you.  Although many have tried, this process will not help to avoid paying off your debts, taxes, or student loans.

If the court is satisfied that the requirements of the Act have been complied with and there are no lawful and compelling objections, a decree may be entered changing your name as you have specifically requested.  The court has substantial discretion, though, and may deny your request if they feel your real purpose for changing names is fraudulent.  Examples of such a bad intent include changing to avoid taxes, or changing to mislead the public by assuming the name of a well-known professional in your field.  Yes, that has been tried and litigated.

Regarding changing the name of a minor, the court if bound by its general, “best interests of the minor child” legally defined standard that is applied in custody cases.  Factors the court will consider in these cases include the child’s understanding of the significance of changing their name, the effect of the change on the bonds between parent and child, and any social stigma a given name might cause (i.e., Adolf, Judas, Moonbeam, etc…).  Pennsylvania courts have granted name changes where the child’s parent is a notorious criminal in the community and their name would jeopardize their future well-being.

There is a shortcut for a person who is divorced to resume any previously used surname (maiden name).  That person may easily resume their maiden name by merely filing a written notice of their intent to do so with the clerk of the Court of Common Pleas in the county where the divorce decree was filed or entered, without filing a formal petition, without giving legal notice, and without appearing before a judge.  The shortcut is limited to this particular case, however.

All content on this website is intended for general information only, and should not be construed as legal advice, tax advice, or financial advice applicable to your particular situation.  No attorney-client relationship is created unless and until a binding written representation agreement is signed by both you and our office. Before taking any action based on this website, you should consider your personal situation and seek professional advice.

Stepparents Legal Rights and Duties

What legal rights and responsibilities does a step-parent have to a beloved child who is not their natural or adopted son or daughter, but whom they love, cherish, and treat as their own flesh and blood?  What are the legal consequences to the admirable and beautiful act of stepping up to the plate and being a parent for a child who is missing one?  Much depends on whether they stand in loco parentis to their stepchild as defined under Pennsylvania law.

What does in loco parentis mean?  Its Latin for “in place of the parent”.  More particularly, “a person in loco parentis is one who means to put him or herself in the situation of a lawful parent to a child with reference to the office and duty of making provision for the child, or one who actually assumes the obligations incident to the parental relation, without going through the formalities necessary to a legal adoption.”  In re Adoption of S.M.D., 49 Pa. D. & C.4th 353, 2000 Pa. Dist. & Cnty. Dec. LEXIS 130 (2000)Pennsylvania Law Encycopedia.  

Pennsylvania law currently holds that, “a stepparent does not, merely by reason of the relation, stand in loco parentis to their step-child”. Kratzer v. Commonwealth, Dep’t of Public Welfare, 85 Pa. Commw. 318, 481 A.2d 1380 (1984).  “Accordingly, a stepparent as such is under no obligation to support the children of his or her spouse by a former marriage.”  Id. 

On the other hand, however, “a stepparent who takes a spouse’s minor child into his or her home and respectfully and responsibly treats the child as his or her own may be considered as standing in loco parentis, and must support and maintain the minor child.  Commonwealth ex rel. Bulson v. Bulson, 286 Pa. Super. 633, 419 A.2d 1327 (1980).  More recent cases have held, though, that a stepparent acting in loco parentis is not liable to support the stepchild after the dissolution of the marriage with the stepchild’s natural parent.  L. S. K. v. H. A. N., 813 A.2d 872, 2002 Pa. Super. LEXIS 3806 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2002)

Nonetheless, when a stepparent has held a child out as his or her own, the stepparent may be estopped from denying an imputed paternity and therefore be financially liable to support the stepchild following a divorce under the doctrine of equitable estoppel. Estoppel in paternity actions is merely the legal determination that because of a person’s conduct (here,  holding out the child as his or her own, or supporting the child), that person, regardless of true biological status, will not be permitted to deny parentage.  L. S. K. v. H. A. N., 813 A.2d 872, 2002 Pa. Super. LEXIS 3806 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2002. 
Pennsylvania Law Encycopedia

Regarding visitation and established stepparents, “when a stepparent is in loco parentis with stepchildren, courts must jealously guard his or her rights to visitation.”   Spells v. Spells, 250 Pa. Super. 168, 378 A.2d 879 (1977).  The court must permit a stepparent to establish what his or her relationship to a child is and to demonstrate that his or her interest in visitation should be protected.  Id.

In summary, then, Pennsylvania law, even in the absence of adoption, may wisely enough confirm the noble act of a stepparent becoming a true parent in both rights and responsibilities, as long as such confirmation is the best interest of the children.  Like every other case the legal maxim, “it depends” always applies and every case is factual distinct.

For any questions or further explanation and exploration of these issues, be sure to contact our office for a free consultation.  Have a wonderful day.

Grandparents’ Legal Standing for Child Custody Rights in Pennsylvania

Unfortunately, do to neglect, substance abuse, or other issues with their own child, a grandparent may need to step up to the plate in court to protect their grandchildren from danger.  Cases like this are tragic, but they sadly happen fairly regularly in our area.  Often, though, once the grandchild is secure in the loving and caring home of their grandparents via court order, the natural parent has an opportunity to recover, maintain regular visitation with the child, and the family will actually reconcile.

The law places several hurdles in front of grandparents prior to formally seeking custody in court.  Grandparents have legal standing (the ability to file suit in a legal matter and participate in a case) in Pennsylvania for obtaining formal custody of minor children as follows, according to section 23 Pa.C.S. 5324:

Standing for any form of physical custody or legal custody:

The following individuals may file an action under this chapter for any form of physical custody or legal custody:

    • (1) A parent of the child.
    • (2) A person who stands in loco parentis to the child.
    • (3) A grandparent of the child who is not in loco parentis to the child:
      • (i) whose relationship with the child began either with the consent of a parent of the child or under a court order;
      • (ii) who assumes or is willing to assume responsibility for the child; and
      • (iii) when one of the following conditions is met:
        • (A) the child has been determined to be a dependent child under 42 Pa.C.S. Ch. 63 (relating to juvenile matters);
        • (B) the child is substantially at risk due to parental abuse, neglect, drug or alcohol abuse or incapacity; or
        • (C) The child has for a period of at least 12 consecutive months, resided with the grandparent, excluding brief temporary absences of the child from the home, and is removed from the home by the parents, in which case the action must be filed within six months after the removal of the child from the home.

     A person in loco parentis is one who means to put him or herself in the situation of a   lawful parent to a child with reference to  the office and duty of making provision for the child, or one who actually assumes the obligations incident to the parental relation, without going through the formalities necessary to a legal adoption.  The assumption of the relation is a question of intention, which may be shown by the acts and declarations of the person alleged to stand in that relation.  When a person stands in loco parentis to a child, his or her rights, duties, and liabilities are the same as those of the lawful parent.  Pennsylvania Law Encyclopedia.

So, if a grandparent is currently acting as a parent (in loco parentis) to their grandchild as defined by law, they may seek formal custody of their grandchild without delay.  If not, they have to meet the test outlined in part three of the statute prior to filing in court.

 

 

 

 

Hello!

Hi, my name is Chris, and I’m hoping to provide you with bunches of useful and interesting legal and life information to help you, your family, and your small business.  I’m an attorney (my website), real estate investor, gentleman farmer (think Green Acres), and a very amateur Cello player.  I’m looking forward to sharing a few helpful ideas with you!

All content on this website is intended for general information only, and should not be construed as legal advice, tax advice, or financial advice applicable to your particular situation.  No attorney-client relationship is created unless and until a binding written representation agreement is signed by both you and our office. Before taking any action based on this website, you should consider your personal situation and seek professional advice.