Parental Rights in Pennsylvania

The Supreme Court of the United States has repeatedly upheld the rights of parents to control their children’s lives, education, and upbringing. The home is part of a private area, where the government may not intrude. At the same time, though, there are many regulations that people must follow regarding how they handle their children, and many of these rights can be revoked, limited, or modified by courts – especially in cases of child custody disputes.

Many parents may wonder what their rights are regarding their children, and how these rights are shared with the other parent. The child custody and family law attorneys at Sadek and Cooper explain some basic parental rights, and how they matter for child custody issues.

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What are “Parental Rights” in PA?

“Parental rights” are a group of rights associated with parenting. This includes, broadly, the ability to make decisions on how your child is raised, the ability to discipline your children, the ability to make healthcare and medical decisions, and child custodyChild custody is often the most important issue regarding parental rights, and usually determines whether or not you have the other rights. Without legal custody of your child, you do not get the legal right to make other decisions regarding their care and well-being, but any parent with legal custody may participate in decision-making.

The ability to make healthcare decisions for your children is a parental right that is often in the news. Many issues regarding vaccination come down to the parent’s right to make medical decisions for their child. Similarly, mental health diagnoses, such as ADD, and the ability to accept or refuse treatment for your child is similarly a parental right. On top of this, your own religious values may dictate healthcare decisions, and these are also part of your rights as a parent.

The right to raise your children in the religion of your choice is also generally protected. Even in court cases regarding Pennsylvania Dutch children, the courts have generally protected a parent’s right to instill strict religious behaviors in their children. This may work concurrently with another right – the right to educate your children. Parents have the choice, in Pennsylvania, of sending their kids to public school, private school, religious schools, or homeschooling them themselves. Most of the time, the government does not interfere with these rights.

Parental discipline is one of the most controversial areas of parental rights, on a practical level. Many times, the line between abusive treatment and strict discipline is blurred by legal and societal standards. Further, this kind of treatment may play a huge role in determining child custody other legal issues.

If your parental rights have been infringed in any way, it is important to talk to an attorney about what you are legally allowed to do for your children.

Custody Rights

When parents treat their children poorly, the government may be authorized to revoke some parental rights. Alternatively, in cases of divorce or child custody disputes, the court may rule that it is in the child’s best interest to give custody to only one of the parents or to revoke custody. In any case, the ultimate decision is based on what is best for the child. In any Pennsylvania court, the judge’s personal standard – and the legal standard – is to protect the child’s best interests.

In Pennsylvania there must always be at least one parent with both physical and legal custody (called the “custodial parent”), but an additional parent may have only legal custody (called the “non-custodial parent”). When parents live together, both parents have physical and legal custody, but in cases of divorce, separation, or out-of-wedlock children, only one parent will have physical custody. Custody (physical and legal) can alternatively be given to a guardian (such as an aunt/uncle, grandparent, or someone else) if the parents die or cannot care for the child.

Legal custody allows parents to make decisions about their child’s upbringing, but physical custody has the added power of giving them day-to-day control over where the child goes and what the child does. Courts often work to help parents figure out how to fairly share authority to make decisions under their parental rights, in cases of shared custody. Many times, these become heated debates, and each side needs attorneys to help settle the disputes.

Regardless, each parent with custody always has the right (called “standing”) to bring a custody dispute to court. This empowers them to get a court to enforce decisions and rules regarding child custody, rather than resorting to in-fighting or violence.

Philadelphia Child Custody and Parental Rights Attorneys

If you are involved in a child custody dispute, or feel that your parental rights are being infringed by your custody plan, talk to an attorney. The child support, child custody, and divorce attorneys at Sadek and Cooper understand parental rights in Pennsylvania, and how you may be able to get help in court. Call 215-814-0395 today for a free consultation about your case.


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