Child custody arrangements are complicated and emotional for everyone involved. Both parents usually believe that they know what is best for their child, but their ideas do not always align.
Basic parental presumptions and rights
When a child is born to a married couple, Pennsylvania law presumes that the father is the husband. In this situation, both parents share equal custodial rights. However, when couples are unwed, this presumption does not exist. Even so, in Pennsylvania, the custody act is designed to give biological parents, whether unwed or wed, the right to have a “meaningful relationship” with their minor children. “Meaningful relationship” is the phrase used by the court to describe a custodial schedule for the minor child(ren) and his/her biological parents upon a break-up or divorce. Figuring out the best “meaningful relationship” between the minor child(ren) and their biological parents upon a dissolution of the family unit is never easy.
In Pennsylvania, there is a presumption that both biological parents “walk into the courthouse on equal footing.” There is no longer a gender preference as it relates to a primary physical custodian. Because of this, the custody act was designed to include dispute resolution mechanisms/opportunities for parents involved in custody litigation to advance an environment wherein they can attempt to reach an agreement(s). The custody act helps broadcast the principal that parents are the best ones to come up with the custodial arrangement of their child(ren) because they know their lives and the lives of their children the best. However, it is true that reaching an agreement is not always possible for some parents. Depending on the county the custody litigation is in, these opportunities can include mandatory seminars, classes, educations, conciliations, and mediations wherein the parents, with a court appointed mediator, conciliator, or hearing officer, discuss the circumstances of each of them and the minor child(ren) and what the minor child(ren)’s “meaningful relationship” with each parent could look like. These mechanisms/opportunities happen before any Judge involvement.
Determining child custody arrangements
If the parents are not able to agree on an arrangement, then a child custody case will be heard before a family court judge. The Pennsylvania courts will then determine child custody arrangements based on the best interests of the child. In Pennsylvania, the court considers sixteen (16) factors to determine a custody arrangement. A qualified family law attorney can help make this process easier for you and your child(ren) and can help ease some of the emotional stress that is inevitable when discussing the future of your family and child(ren) upon a break-up or divorce.