When parents divorce, the divorce decree will specify with whom the children will live and how often/under what circumstances the other parent will visit with the children. Parents often work out these arrangements between themselves, either voluntarily or with the assistance of their lawyers or a mediator. When they are unable to reach a decision, or when unmarried parents are unable to agree on who will have custody of their child, the court may intervene and make a decision based on the “best interests of the child.”
In most situations, physical custody is awarded to one parent with whom the child will live most of the time. That parent has primary physical custody and the other parent has partial physical custody. However, because joint custody requires a high degree of cooperation between the parents, courts are reluctant to order joint custody unless both parents are in agreement and can demonstrate the ability to make joint decisions and cooperate for the child’s sake.
In some cases, a court may award shared physical custody, which means alternating the children every few days or on a week on/week off basis. A shared physical custody arrangement requires that the parties communicate often and in depth regarding their children’s education, activities, and schedules. In cases where the parties cannot demonstrate an ability to cooperate with one another for the child’s sake, a court will be reluctant to approve of such an arrangement.
In the vast majority of instances the parents have joint legal custody. Legal custody includes the right to make decisions about the child’s education, religion, health care, and other important matters which will affect a child’s life.
In the event that allegations of abuse have been raised, any visitation granted may be subject to supervision by a neutral third party. Grandparents and stepparents may also be entitled to visitation privileges under certain circumstances.
Another option, although much less favored, is split custody, in which one parent has custody of one or more of the parties’ children, and the other parent has custody of the other(s). Courts usually prefer not to separate siblings, however, when issuing custody orders.
In deciding who will have custody, the courts consider various factors. However, the overriding consideration is always the “best interests of the child.” Often, the main factor is which parent has been the child’s primary caretaker. If the children are old enough, the courts will take their preference into account in making a custody decision. Once entered, a custody award or a support order can be changed by the court if the parent’s or children’s circumstances have changed.
If you or someone you love is involved in (or will become involved in) child custody litigation in Harrisburg, York, or surrounding areas of Pennsylvania, please contact Kope and Associates for a free consultation. The family law attorneys at Kope and Associates have particular experience in the complicated laws surrounding child custody. Contact them today and have immediate experience on your side.