Divorce is hard on everyone, but it can be particularly difficult for the children. Young children especially have a difficult time understanding what is going on during divorce and may even feel as if they did something wrong. It is also hard for parents to get used to being away from their children sometimes. In many cases, there will be times when the children will be spending time, maybe even weeks or months, with the other parent. This is why it is important for parents to understand how custody laws work and what their options are. Generally, Pennsylvania law governs child custody and visitation when Pennsylvania is the child's home state.
How is custody decided in Pennsylvania?
There are two main types of custody in Pennsylvania. Legal custody refers to the authority to make major decisions for the child including religious, educational and medical decisions. Physical custody refers to where the children will actually live. State law also allows for partial custody, which means the right to have the child reside with the noncustodial parent away from the custodial parent for a specific period of time.
Custody may be shared, meaning that both parents have legal or physical custody of the child. This will allow the child to have continuing contact with both parents. If parents do not have shared custody, the other parent may have visitation rights. If a parent has visitation rights, that parent has the right to visit the child but not necessarily the right to take the child from the control of the custodial parent.
To determine how custody is awarded, the court will look at the best interests of the child. The parents may come to an agreement themselves, but the court will always look at the best interests of the child before approving the agreement. The best interests of the child include such things as the physical and mental fitness of the parents, insofar as they affect the child, the ability to allow the child to continue to maintain a relationship with the other parent's extended family, the preference of the child if the child is mature enough, opportunities for visitation and whether there is a history of abandonment or domestic violence. The court will look at each family as the individual unit that it is.
Can custody be modified?
Custody orders can be modified, but the court must be presented with evidence as to why the order should be modified. The parent wishing to modify the order must prove to the court why it has to be modified. The court generally favors stability for the child, and the parent must show that there is something in the home environment that negatively affects the child's wellbeing. There must be a substantial change in circumstances and the best interests of the child that should require a change in custody.
Anyone dealing with child custody issues in Pennsylvania should contact an experienced family law attorney. These issues are hard to deal with on one's own, and the resolutions of the issues are of utmost importance. An attorney can help parents dealing with child custody matters achieve their goals.