Child Custody Basics: Everything You Need To Know
Are you dealing with a child custody issue? Any way you look at it, child custody matters are challenging. Each type of family law matter has its own set of unique problems, both for the parents and the children involved. Dealing with a child custody battle often puts a strain on familial relationships and can be time-consuming as well as expensive. However, the more you know about child custody basics, the easier the legal process will be.
To get a step ahead on your family law case, make sure you know the basics about child custody law in Pennsylvania.
Types of Child Custody
In Pennsylvania, child custody refers to both physical and legal parenting power. A parent can have legal custody, which refers to the authority to make major parenting decisions, like where the child will go to school, where he or she will seek medical care, and so on. A parent with physical custody, on the other hand, is the person who the child lives with and spends most of their time with. In most cases, the parent with physical custody also has legal custody, though not always.
Custody can be split between both parents through a shared custody agreement, or it can be awarded to one parent through primary custody. When primary custody is awarded, the other parent will be granted visitation rights, which is a form of structured time that the child and parent spend together. In some cases, visitation may be every week; in others, it may be only a few times a year. With a shared custody arrangement, parents split time and responsibilities pertaining to their children, though the precise scheduling depends on each family.
What the Court Considers
Pennsylvania courts will consider several different factors in order to determine the best legal options for the child. The main objective of the court is to determine what custody arrangement will be in the best interest of the child. As a general rule, Pennsylvania courts prefer to award joint custody because children generally benefit from having an active relationship with both parents, unless special circumstances make either parent unfit. However, there are instances where the court will award primary custody to one parent over the other.
A judge will consider the following factors in a child custody case:
- The location of each parent
- The child’s relationship with each parent
- Each parent’s mental and physical health
- The child’s preferences
- Whether or not either parent has a history of abuse or criminal record
- The likelihood each parent has of encouraging the child’s relationship with their other parent
- The child’s relationship with other family members in each parent’s household
The court’s ultimate goal is to find a parenting arrangement that works best for the child and encourages a healthy, happy home environment. In the event that a current child custody arrangement is no longer serving the child’s best interest, the court may grant a legal modification.