In Pennsylvania, there are two (2) types of custody: legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody deals with the major decision making powers of the parents, regarding, for example, education, medical, and extra-curricular, while physical custody deals with the actual visitation or overnight schedule of the minor child(ren) with each parent. Pennsylvania parents who are no longer together and who have minor children might need to file a petition for child custody and/or visitation. This type of case allows parents to secure orders to address how much time the child will spend with each parent.
How the court makes child custody decisions
Parents who cannot agree about child custody and visitation might have to litigate the matter. When a judge makes a decision about child custody and visitation, the decision will be made in the best interests of the child instead of the wishes of the parents. Although by public policy, Pennsylvania attempts to afford both parents with a meaningful relationship with their minor child(ren), the state outlines required factors for judges to consider when making child custody determinations, including, but not limited to, the following:
- Which parent is more likely to encourage and permit the frequent and continuing contact with the minor child and the other parent
- The preference of the minor child(ren) based in good reasons (which is specifically defined by caselaw)
- The stability and continuity of the minor child and whether or not the minor child has any special and or specialized needs
- Any history of Domestic Violence, Criminal convictions and or charges of a parent, any history of drugs and alcohol, and any history of mental and or physical health
- Which parent effectuates the parental duties of the minor child(ren)
- Which parent is more likely to attend to the daily needs of the minor child(ren) adequate to the minor child(ren)’s academic, emotional, physical, and spiritual and or special needs
- The availability of extended family
- The proximity of the parents residences.
Proposed Order of Court and or proposed Parenting plans
Each parent will need to submit a proposed Order of Court and/or parenting plan to the court. These proposed orders and/or plans will address how much time the child will spend with each parent and will need to include vacations and holidays. If parents are able to resolve their child custody issues and reach a child custody and visitation agreement through negotiations, the court will include it as the court’s order as long as it is fair and conscionable. Pennsylvania requires the parents to engage in negotiations by way of dispute resolution mechanisms that each county is required to order of the parents, those dispute resolution mechanisms include but are not limited to education seminars, parenting classes, medication sessions, and custody conciliations.
People who are involved in child custody disputes might be happier with the results if they are able to negotiate agreements within the required dispute resolution mechanisms as described above instead of leaving the decision up to a judge who does not know them. An experienced child custody attorney might help to negotiate an agreement that may work better for everyone involved and/or, if no agreement can be reached, discuss with you the proper case strategy to obtain the best Order and or parenting plan for your minor child(ren) from the judge assigned to your case.