Pennsylvania custody law doesn’t favor either the father or the mother, but rather expects the courts to look at the relationship each parent has with the children. Pennsylvania places great importance on your children continuing their relationships with both you and your co-parent after separation or divorce. The courts encourage you to come to a reasonable agreement regarding custody on your own and seriously consider what you decide. However, sometimes a case requires court intervention in order to reach a resolution. While Pennsylvania used to have the somewhat vague “best interest of the child” standard, there are now 16 different factors that courts must consider in making a custody determination. These include, but are not limited to, the level of conflict between the parties; which parent is more likely to promote a positive relationship between the child and the other parent; and what duties each parent performs for the children.
Take it one step at a time
We will counsel and prepare you for each step of the custody process as your case moves forward. Each of the counties that we practice in have different variations of the Pennsylvania custody process. Therefore, the county where your case is being heard will determine how many steps the custody process is, and what those steps are. We are familiar with all of them, and will explain the process that applies to your case at your free consultation. We will walk those steps with you, providing guidance and advice along the way.
Types of Custody
When discussing what kind of custody arrangement you are looking for, it is helpful to be familiar with the different types of custody.
Legal custody is your right to make major decisions that affect your children, such as medical, religious or educational decisions. In most cases, legal custody is shared equally between the parties, meaning that they must consult with each other prior to making any major decisions for the children. However, it is possible for one party to obtain “full” or “sole” legal custody, which means that one parent/custodian would have the right to make all decisions for the child without needing to consult the other parent. Courts typically require a compelling reason in order to grant one party sole legal custody.
Physical custody is the right to have the children in your care. There are many different descriptions of physical custody arrangements.
“Full” or “sole” physical custody means that you have the child 100% of the time, to the exclusion of the other parent.
“Shared” or “Joint” custody is typically used to mean that each party has custody of the child for 50% of the year, whether it is done week on/week off, 2-2-3, or some other way.
“Primary physical custody” means that you have the children in your care the majority of the time.
“Partial physical custody” means that you have the children in your care for less than 50% of the time. One of the most common schedules for this arrangement is every other weekend and one evening during the week.
“Supervised custody” means that a party cannot be left alone with the child. These arrangements are typically intended to be temporary, either to allow a child time to bond with a parent/custodian in a comfortable setting, or to allow the parent/custodian to have time with the child while they deal with a problem, such as addiction issues.
Custody agreements aren’t set in stone
Custody agreements don’t have to be permanent. In fact, they often change for many reasons. As children get older, their needs and wants change, often a new arrangement. One parent may wish to relocate out of the area to stay employed or be near family. The holiday schedule may no longer suit the new traditions that the families have developed. Our attorneys stay with you throughout the entire process and revisit your custody agreement as often as needed throughout the years to come.
Third Party Custody Rights
Parents aren’t the only parties who have the right to file for custody. Anyone who is found to be “in loco parentis” (someone who has acted as a parent to the child) has the right to file for any type of custody of the child. In many cases, grandparents (including great-grandparents) have the right to seek partial, or even primary physical custody of their grandchildren. These third party situations are very fact-specific and detail-oriented, so it is important to consult with an attorney to determine what kind of custody rights, if any, you have to a child.
Whether or not you currently have a custody order in place, if you are considering relocating with your child and without the other parent, you should consult with an attorney prior to taking any steps towards that relocation. Pennsylvania law has specific requirements for relocation, and if a relocation is outside of the school district, further than a 25 mile radius of your current home, or would impair the ability of the other parent to see the child, then you may need to go through the court process prior to relocating.