Family-Related Legal Problems

Child Custody

Working out where a child lives and who makes decisions for the child can be complicated. Custody laws and court procedures are different in every state.  Most of the information and resources on this website relate to PA only.

Resources that contain general information and may be helpful to anyone in the U.S.

Missing Children
General Information
PA Custody Laws and Procedures: Getting Started
 What if I need to keep my kids or myself safe?
 Do you want to move? Understanding and following PA law on relocation

Important: If you share custody with someone else, you must take important steps to determine whether you may relocate, even if you do not have a custody order in place.

Child Custody in Philadelphia: Self-Help
Philadelphia Family Court Forms

Family Court website

Child Custody in Allegheny County: Self Help
Allegheny County Family Court  Forms
Child Support

Important: Child support laws are different in each state, WITH ONE EXCEPTION. If the person owing child support is in the MILITARY, refer to the the U.S. Government’s rules on military personnel.

Establishing Paternity in PA

To get child support from a child’s father, the child and the father must have a legal relationship. If you were not married when your child was born, you must go through a court process to complete this step.  Learn more here:

Domestic Violence, TANF, and Child Support in PA

If you receive TANF (cash assistance) in PA, Welfare will file for child support for you.  You have certain rights if you or your children would be at risk for future harm by your filing for child support.  Learn more about your rights and responsibilities here:

Domestic Violence and Welfare Requirements for Child Support

Filing for Child Support in PA
Child Support in Philadelphia: Where to Start
Child Support in Allegheny County : Where to Start
Enforcing Child Support in PA
  • You must go to your county Domestic Relations Section to enforce your order.  Learn where to go here. The court has many tools.  For example, it can take child support out of the wages of the person who owes it.  It can intercept tax refunds.  It can hold hearings.  It can put the person who owes support in jail.  It has other options too.
  • Child Support Lien Network (NOT FREE) intercepts insurance settlements to pay child support.
Separation and Divorce

Laws and court procedures are different in every state.  Most of the information and resources on this website relate to PA only.

Divorce Resources for Anyone in the U.S.
PA Divorce Law and Resources

Recently, PA has begun developing information and forms for use in any county.  Those forms are found here.  Note: Be sure to find the pull-down menu and select your county to learn more.  Counties may have additional requirements not included in the statewide forms.

Common Law Marriage

Until 2005, PA was one of only a few of states still recognizing common law marriage. It is no longer possible to become married by common law in PA, but those who satisfied the requirements before the law changed were “grandfathered in;” in other words, they remain married.  To be common law married in PA, a couple must 1) hold themselves out as married AND 2) must have, at some point in time, said to each other that they are married.  Some important things about common law marriage:

  • Lesbian and gay couples can be married by common law in PA. This is a new development.  Check with a family law attorney to learn more.
  • When a common law marriage ends, the couple may disagree about whether there was a marriage.  This can raise questions regarding the division of property, access to pensions and alimony, etc.  In such a situation, we recommend that a caller seek legal advice before proceeding with any steps towards obtaining a divorce.
  • To end a common law marriage, you MUST get a divorce.
Philadelphia Area Resources
Allegheny County
Helping an Abused Child

Important: Parents experiencing domestic violence should click here for more information.

Anyone can make a child abuse report.

  • National Child Abuse Hotline.  1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453). Calls are free from land lines and pay phones
  • In PA, call Child Line at 1-800-932-0313. Calls are free from land lines and pay phones.
Understanding Child Abuse
What if a child is missing?
Resources in the Philadelphia Area
Resources in Allegheny County
Is Your Child in Foster Care?


  • Parents experiencing domestic violence should click here for more information.
  • If the court has found your child to be “dependent,” PA law says that the court must provide a lawyer for you.  Contact your local court to request a lawyer.
Philadelphia Resources
General Resources
Second Parent Adoption
    • PA permits second parent adoption by lesbian and gay couples.  Call the Women’s Law Project at 215-928-9801 for information.
    • Philadelphia: Mazzoni Center Legal Services (LGBT adoption)
Do you need a copy of a birth certificate?