Child custody is a legal term that describes the relationship between a parent and his or her child. Custody issues usually arise during the divorce process. Different states have different laws and procedures regarding child custody and legal guardianship. Here is some information about how child custody is determined in Pennsylvania.

Reaching a custody agreement

In the state of Pennsylvania, the parties involved are permitted to decide who should have legal and physical custody. If needed, a minister or counselor can help the parties reach an agreement. The court can then covert the agreement to an Order of Court. If the two parties fail to reach an agreement, one party can file a Complaint for Custody (or Partial Custody).

In the event a Complain for Custody is filed, both parties may be ordered to attend an education seminar to learn better communication skills for the well-being of the child and to attend mediation, both are dependent on the county procedures. A trained third-party neutral or mediator will help both parties negotiate their issues to (ideally) reach an agreement. If this also fails, the court may order a psychological evaluation and a home study. Often, a full custody trial will follow and the judge will make the final decision.

Different types of custody

In Pennsylvania, there are two forms of child custody. Legal custody refers to the ability to make major decisions regarding the child. These decisions can be educational, medical and religious in nature. On the other hand, physical custody grants an individual the ability to have a child in his or her care.

Legal custody can be sole or shared. Sole legal custody grants only one party the ability to make major decisions regarding the child. Shared custody grants two parties the right to make major decisions. Both parties must confer with each other before major decisions are made.

There are four different forms of physical custody. Primary physical custody allows one party to have the child in his or her care the majority of the time. Shared physical custody grants two parties the ability to have frequent contact with the minor child. Partial physical custody grants one party the right to visit a child unsupervised for a limited amount of time. Supervised visitation is only granted when the party may pose a danger to the minor child. A relative, friend or even a county agency representative can supervise visitations.

The child’s best interests

A judge will consider the best interests of the child when making the final decision for a full custody case. Typically, 16 “best interest” factors may be considered. Some of these factors include:

  • Which party is likely to encourage and permit contact between the child and the other party.
  • Present and past abuse committed against the child by any of the parties involved.
  • The child’s sibling relationships.
  • The preference of the child (depending on the child’s age).
  • The amount of conflict between the two parties.
  • Which party has the necessary resources to tend to the physical, emotional, educational and developmental needs of the child.

Additional factors may also be considered by the court depending on the circumstances. Without the professional legal help, child custody cases can be very tricky and difficult to navigate. For more information about how child custody is determined in Pennsylvania, do not hesitate to contact an attorney at Miller, Kistler & Campbell. We will discuss the different types of custody arrangements, answer your questions and help you navigate the complex legal process.