People often refer to custody and visitation matters as battles, as they can pit one parent against the other. One reason why child custody matters can become so contentious is that people often misunderstand the legal process and the laws in place. This unfamiliarity with the system can foster a lot of fear.
Thus, having a better idea of how child custody works in Pennsylvania can allay these fears and make it easier to navigate the process.
Types of custody
Pennsylvania recognizes two types of custody: legal custody and physical custody.
Physical custody refers to having possession and control of a child; legal custody is the right to make important decisions for a child.
Parents could share legal and physical custody, or one parent could have primary legal or physical custody. And even if a parent has primary physical custody, both parties could have joint legal custody.
In other words, custody is not necessarily an all-or-nothing system. Various arrangements can be put in place, depending on numerous factors.
Factors that affect custody
When determining or approving an order for child custody, the courts focus on what is in the best interests of the child. As such, they consider factors like:
- Whether one or both parents are willing to encourage contact with the other parent
- A child’s relationships with extended family and the community
- The child’s preference (in some cases)
- Any history of abuse or neglect
- Any indications of parental alienation
- Both parents’ capability to provide a safe, supportive environment
- Where each parent lives
- Both parents’ mental and physical health
- A history of parental drug or alcohol abuse
These and other relevant factors will help the courts determine whether it is in a child’s best interests to be primarily with one parent or to have both parents be active in their lives.
Note that some elements will generally not impact a court’s decision, like gender, marital misconduct and affluence.
Setting yourself up for success
If you are facing child custody issues, understanding the basics can be very helpful. It can also be beneficial to work through these matters cooperatively outside of court (though sometimes that is not possible). Doing so allows you to maintain more control over the outcome.
If parents can minimize conflict and contention during this process, they can set themselves and their children up for a more positive future.