Area of Law:
When a couple divorces and there is a minor child involved, the divorce decree will specify who has physical custody as well as legal custody of the child. Physical custody determines where and with whom the child will live. Legal custody specifies who has the legal right to make important decisions about the child related to issues such as education, religion, medical issues, and discipline. Spouses often reach an agreement regarding child custody on their own, but if they do not, a Pennsylvania court will intervene and establish custody arrangements based on the best interests of the child. Divorcesource.com provides a complete summary of divorce and custody laws in the state of Pennsylvania.
There are typically several different custody arrangements that may be made for children of divorced parents. In most cases, courts will award physical custody to one parent with whom the child will live most of the time. The parent with physical custody, or the custodial parent, often shares legal custody, or the right to make decisions regarding the child, with the non-custodial parent. Many child custody arrangements involve joint custody in which the child spends a relatively equal amount of time with each parent. In Pennsylvania, joint custody is known as shared custody.
According to Pennsylvania law, courts may award sole or shared custody of children. The best interests and welfare of the child is determined by the court's consideration and evaluation of the following factors:
· The child's preference
· The ability of each parent to provide for the child's physical, intellectual, and emotional well-being
· Which parent is more likely to foster frequent and continuing contact between the child and the non-custodial parent
· Abusive or criminal conduct by either party
In Pennsylvania, legal custody is the right to make important decisions regarding education, religion, and medical care. If the parents are able to cooperate in any way at all, legal custody is often shared between them. Under a shared legal custody arrangement, the parent who has physical custody on a given day makes routine day-to-day decisions regarding the minor child, and the parties share the responsibility for making the major decisions in the child's life.
An order for shared custody may be awarded by the court based on the following occurrences: the application of one or both parents; when the parties have agreed to an award of shared custody; or the discretion of the court. In Pennsylvania, both parents may be required to attend counseling sessions regarding child custody, and the recommendations of the counselor may be used to determine child custody. When awarding shared custody, the court typically requires the parents to submit a written plan for child custody.
After the custody order is signed by the judge and filed with the court clerk in Pennsylvania, both parents are required to abide by it. If a parent violates the custody order by blocking the non-custodial parent’s access to the child, he or she may petition the court for relief by filing a petition for modification. If it is in the best interest of the child, the judge may decide to modify the visitation order, provide makeup visitation for the time missed, or order counseling or mediation. For a comprehensive review of child custody laws in Pennsylvania, go to lawyers.com.