The Battle for Our Children
As loving and caring parents, you always have the best interests of your children at heart. Custody litigation can be a physically and emotionally challenging experience for you and your loved ones. Here are certain key points to keep in mind if custody litigation poses a problem for you.
Matters regarding custody in PA are determined based on the best interests of the child. The personal objectives of the parents come second to the needs of the child. The standard of best interests is far reaching, including everything from school, to extended family and housing. This does not mean, however, that the more financially-secure parent is entitled to more custody - as long as the child is safe, cared for, and happy in the home, money should not be an issue.
Types of Custody
Legal custody is the right to make decisions regarding the welfare of the child. This includes decisions relating to where a child goes to school, who his or her doctors are, and whether the child receives therapy or treatment.
Physical custody refers to where the child lives or stays. Sole physical custody means that the other parent does not have any access to the child. Primary physical custody means that One parent has the child more than 50% of the time. Partial physical custody or visitation refers to a scenario where a parent has less than 50% custody.
If there is not custody Order or Agreement filed with the Court both parents have equal legal and physical custody of the child. Unfortunately this can result in a possession war where one parent is afraid to allow the child to go with the other parent because they may not get the child back. This is a real concern. I strongly recommend that every separated couple with children either gets a custody Order from the Court or files an Agreement with the Court. Without that, there is nothing anyone can do to force your ex to give you your child back. The process of getting a Court Order can be long and being deprived of your child for weeks is a terrifying thought for most parents.
Whenever possible, PA courts prefer for parents to share legal and physical custody equally. And while there are certain factors that may skew custody one way or another, the Courts are reluctant to completely remove a parent's legal or physical custody of a child unless it can be proven that that parent poses some kind of danger to the child.
Master of the Court
In cases where the Court grants custody to a parent who has not seen his or her child for an extended period, the Court will frequently choose a "stepped-up" approach in which custody is gradually increased over time. This allows for the child to slowly acclimate to the new arrangements, and for the parent to demonstrate parental fitness under regulated conditions. Where the Court feels that there are legitimate concerns regarding a parent's fitness whether due to instability, mental illness, drug use, or another issue, the Court may order that the parent submit to certain requirements before receiving expanded custody rights, such as co-parenting classes, psychological evaluations, drug tests, and anger management classes. Even baseless accusations from the other party may cause the Court to ask you to be evaluated. Remember that this is not necessarily a reflection on you, but merely an excess of caution on the Court's side. The cost of these tests can be split between the parties or placed on either of the two parties.