§5329 Risk of Harm Evaluations in Custody Cases

In custody actions, if one parent believes that the other parent, or someone who lives with the other parent, poses a risk of harm to the minor child who is the subject of the custody action, the concerned parent must bring this concern to the Court’s attention.  Each party is required to complete a Criminal Record/Abuse History Verification in the early stages of the custody matter.  If either party or a household member of either party has been convicted of certain crimes, violated a Protection from Abuse Order, or been found to be “indicted” as an abuser by Children and Youth, that party can be required to undergo an evaluation pursuant to 23 Pa.C.S. §5329 (referred to as a §5329 evaluation) to determine if they pose a risk of harm to children, prior to being awarded any physical custody of the minor child.

Not every crime will trigger the need for a §5329 evaluation.  While not an exhaustive list, examples of criminal convictions that may require a §5329 evaluation include sexual assault, rape, murder, kidnapping, DUI, aggravated assault and endangering the welfare of a child.  If the psychologist or psychiatrist determines that the party does not pose a risk of harm to the minor child, then the custody action will proceed as normal.  If the evaluator determines that the individual does pose a risk of harm to the minor child, the evaluator will typically recommend treatment or follow-up that should be completed prior to having unsupervised contact with the child.  Such recommendations can include counseling, drug or alcohol testing, and many other types of treatment.

The Court will consider the evaluator’s §5329 report in determining what forms and how much legal and physical custody to grant the party who was evaluated. For example, if a party poses a high risk of harm to the child(ren), the Court may order supervised visits. On the other hand, if a party is determined to be a low risk or no risk of harming the child(ren), the Court may grant that party joint or even primary custody of the child(ren). Ultimately, the purpose of the §5329 evaluation is to help the Court determine what is in the best interests of the child(ren) in light of a party’s criminal conviction and related factors.

The attorneys at Tanner Law Offices have experience in matters that may or may not require a §5329 evaluation.  We are able to guide individuals in the steps necessary to ensure that the safety and well-being of the child is always the primary concern.  If you would like more information or assistance in your custody action, please contact our office at (717)731-8114 to schedule a consultation.