When people decide to apply for divorce, many issues can complicate the process. However, one of the most serious and lengthy debates is usually related to child custody. To avoid potential conflicts about where kids will live, how divorced parents will care for them, etc., the court obliges the parties to develop a child custody agreement. This legal document contains a detailed explanation of parents’ rights and responsibilities concerning the upbringing of children.
Sometimes, parents manage to find a compromise on child custody in PA themselves. In other cases, they involve attorneys and the court to reach a custody agreement in PA. Anyways, all decisions must be completed in a written form and approved by the court, catering to children’s best interests.
In this article, we provide a comprehensive overview of what a custody agreement is and how custody works in PA. An in-depth description of the main custody types and visitation schedules with possible modifications is given below.
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Types of Custody in Pennsylvania
Custody in Pennsylvania is determined according to a set of laws. They are used for defining visitation schedules and unique arrangements related to the specifics of family situations. The main types of child custody in PA are the following:
- Legal Custody
Legal custody implies the authority granted to a parent to make important decisions on behalf of a minor child. It can be awarded to one parent, who will be a primary decision maker, or to both parents, meaning they will collaborate when making child-related decisions. The shared legal custody in PA requires a high level of cooperation and efficient communication between parents to come to an agreement that fully aligns with children’s best interests.
- Physical Custody
Physical custody refers to where children will live and who will take care of them on a regular basis. When determining physical custody, Pennsylvania family courts try to ensure a stable, nurturing environment where a child feels secure while having regular and strong relationships with both parents.
Physical custody can be sole, primary, shared, partial, and supervised. Primary physical custody in PA when a child lives with one parent most of the time is quite frequent. However, more and more parents are seeking shared physical custody to spend approximately equal amounts of time with their kids.
- Sole Custody
Sole custody means that a child will live with one parent on a day-to-day basis (physical custody). The court recognizes this parent as the only authority allowed to make major decisions about the child’s life without negotiating them with the other parent (legal custody). Sole custody in PA is rather rare but can still be granted if the court finds that the other parent has drug and/or alcohol addiction, serious untreatable mental health problems, or is prone to domestic violence.
- Joint Custody
Joint custody in PA is a type of agreement aimed at fostering the active participation of both parents in child-rearing. A joint approach in custody can refer to both legal and physical aspects. Joint legal custody implies that parents make choices that affect their kid’s life together. Joint physical custody involves creating schedules for each parent to spend time with children. Such arrangements may range from equal timeshare to customized plans.
Sometimes, one spouse may want to relocate without losing joint physical custody. The reasonable question is, “How far can a parent move with joint custody in Pennsylvania”? The law doesn’t specify any exact distance that can be allowed. However, remember that a partner who plans to move to a new location needs to follow the state’s relocation laws (Pa.C.S.A. § 5337).
How to Choose the Best Custody and Visitation Schedule for You?
No universal solution for custody and visitation agreements exists. However, parents should always do their best to understand children’s needs and reach a corresponding settlement. We have compiled general recommendations on developing a child visitation schedule that would fit your particular case.
- Consider the Child’s Age and Development
On average, younger children have a well-established routine, so abrupt schedule violations can cause anxiety. Such kids can benefit from living in a customary environment with one parent to maintain a sense of security while enjoying frequent visits from the other parent. Older children typically spend much time with friends and classmates. They become more estranged from their parents and may need less adult involvement, which should still be consistent, though. As kids grow, you may need to reassess what custody arrangement is best for a child.
- Evaluate Each Parent’s Work Schedule and Availability
Understand the specifics of your and your partner’s employment, including working hours, travel requirements, etc., to see workable divorce custody options. Ex-spouses should discuss work-related responsibilities and schedules openly to determine time intervals of active engagement with a child for each of them.
- Define Child’s Preferences and Emotional Needs
Initiate age-appropriate conversations with the child to figure out how they feel about upcoming changes and whether they have any desires of whom to live with. If you tried searching, “At what age can a child choose which parent to live with in Pennsylvania?”, you probably know that the law doesn’t determine a particular age. However, the kid’s opinion may be taken into account when the court makes a final decision.
- Assess Living Arrangements
Determine the proximity of each parent’s residence to the child’s school, extracurricular activities, and social circles. Do your best to create a schedule that affects the child’s routine marginally and allows smooth transitions between homes. Moreover, consider available space and amenities in each home to ensure a kid feels safe and comfortable. Parents determined to arrange the best co-parenting schedule should always be honest with one another and focus on their children’s requirements.
- Be Mindful of School and Extracurricular Activities
A good visitation schedule should coordinate with the child’s academic calendar so that both parents can participate in school-related events, parent-teacher conferences, sports, etc. However, parents are not always on amicable terms after a divorce. So, when discussing how custody agreements work, it may be useful to specify whether modifications can be made to the visitation schedule due to changes in the child’s activities, unexpected events, or unforeseen circumstances.
- Seek Legal Guidance
By consulting with a family law attorney, spouses can understand Pennsylvania’s custody laws, the procedure of applying for custody, the things to include in a custody agreement, and more. Legal guidance becomes particularly vital when co-parents face disputes on child custody. In such situations, every parent may hire a separate lawyer to learn how to get custody of a child in PA and apply for child support in accordance with the law.
As you can see, many things should be considered when determining child custody. The process can get even trickier due to possible variations in standard custody practices. Below, you can find more details on traditional child custody arrangements and permissible adjustments.
A balanced approach to child custody, when both parents share equal time and responsibilities in caring for a child, is the best option. Spouses need to be very cooperative and flexible to stick to this schedule. However, it works best when they live in the same or at least close neighborhoods. When deciding on which school children should attend in 50/50 custody, different school districts may cause significant disputes.
At what age can a father get 50/50 custody? The law does not provide any regulations concerning age. The main criterion is the child’s best interest. Let’s focus on the types of 50/50 custody arrangements.
- Alternating Weeks Custody
A child spends one entire week with each parent in a recurring pattern. It allows for extended periods of uninterrupted time with each parent and a predictable and well-coordinated routine for all family members. However, it may result in problems with maintaining a connection with friends when parents live far apart.
- Two Weeks Each
The child spends a fortnight with each parent. With such a plan, parents can create deeper bonding with a child due to extended periods spent together. Besides, it minimizes disturbances in the child’s life due to less frequent transitions. Still, less regular contact with both parents can cause sadness.
- Alternating Every Two Days Schedule Custody
The child’s residence is changed every two days. Parents actively participate in their child’s life, sharing responsibilities equally. It allows a child to feel more connected to both parents. However, there are challenges in preserving stability and established routine for a child. Besides, this plan may not be practical for older children and parents living far from each other.
- The 2-2-5-5 Schedule
A child lives in each parent’s home on a set pattern: 2 days with one parent and 2 days with the other, followed by 5 days with the initial parent and another 5 days with the second parent. It is not as common as the 3 previous options, so study the 2-2-5-5 schedule pros and cons attentively to figure out whether it is suitable in your case. It makes frequent and ongoing involvement in the kid’s life possible for both parties. Besides, a clear structure simplifies planning, though it requires meticulous and consistent coordination between parents.
- The 3-4-4-3 Custody Schedule
How does a 4-3-3-4 schedule work? A child spends 3 days with one parent, 4 days with the other parent, 4 days with the first parent, and 3 days with the second parent. It leads to regular, predictable rotation and the possibility to develop strong bonds with each parent. Still, it takes time for a child to adapt to living in 2 different homes during a week.
As the name implies, one spouse will spend 60% of the time with a child while the other has custody for the remaining 40%. This structure is developed to strike a balance between providing one parent with the majority of parenting time while still allowing the other to participate in upbringing. There are two basic 60/40 custody variations:
- Every Extended Weekend
A non-custodial parent spends time with a kid for an extended period during weekends. This schedule often spans from Friday evening to Monday morning. Therefore, a non-custodial parent can engage with a child during family outings and generally have quality time. It ensures regular contact with both parents and an understandable weekend routine and is a great option for children with fixed timetables during weekdays. However, a non-custodial parent may feel less involved in the child’s life.
- The 4-3 Custody Schedule
One parent has custody for four days, followed by the other parent having custody for three days, and this cycle repeats. It allows equitable distribution of time, so a child spends time with both parents, providing a more stable environment for the kid. It makes strong parent-child relationships possible. However, it may result in disruptions in the child’s weekly routine.
According to this custody structure, one parent who is a primary caregiver has a major and consistent presence in the child’s life – 70% of the time. The custodial parent is typically responsible for daily care and decision-making and provides a stable home environment. A non-custodial parent sticks to scheduled visitations. There are several 70/30 custody variations:
- Every Weekend
A child lives with one parent during a week and spends weekends with a non-custodial parent. It allows regular and concentrated quality time with both parents. However, a non-custodial parent may feel detached during a week.
- Every Third Day
A child moves between parents’ homes, spending every third day with the non-custodial parent, ensuring frequent and consistent contact with both parents. However, such transitions may violate the child’s routine.
- Every Third Week Custody
A child resides with the non-custodial parent for an entire week, recurring in a three-week cycle. Its advantage is the extended time spent with each parent. Still, a non-custodial parent may feel separated when away from a kid.
One parent spends most of the time (about 80%) with a child, while the other parent has the remaining time (about 20%). Therefore, both parents can be involved in the kid’s life, though in different proportions. Let’s focus on the possible variations in more detail.
- Alternating Weekends
One parent takes care of a child approximately 80% of the time, while the other parent enjoys scheduled visitation, specifically on alternating weekends. It ensures regular and meaningful contact with both parents. On the other hand, a non-custodial parent is less involved in the child’s life, especially during the week.
- 1st, 3rd, and 5th Weekends
A child stays with one parent most of the time. On the 1st, 3rd, and 5th weekends of each month, they go to the other parent’s house. If a month has only four weekends, then a kid spends only the 1st and the 3rd weekends with the other parent. A kid spends time with both parents on a consistent, scheduled basis. However, a child needs time to adapt to changing residencies during the week.
- 2nd, 4th, and 5th Weekends Custody
A child mainly lives with one parent and spends time with the other on the 2nd, 4th, and 5th weekends of each month. It allows a child to maintain contact with both parents. Still, rare visits to the other parent can be stressful.
- Every Third Weekend
A child lives with one parent, visiting the other parent every third weekend. Though it is a predictable schedule with regular time with both parents, it leads to extended separation and limited or absent weekday interaction.
What if Parents Can’t Agree?
If there is no child care agreement between parents due to disputes, they have to start a custody case with the local court. They have to do it in the county where a child has lived for the last six months or since birth. The judge will study the case, consider custody factors, and issue a parenting agreement for them, meeting the child’s best interests.
However, some couples may want to try mediation to reach an agreement instead of initiating a trial. Such a decision allows a more peaceful, affordable, and time-efficient alternative to legal proceedings.
Who has custody of a child if there is no court order in PA? According to state law, parents will have shared legal custody. As for physical custody, a child typically lives with one parent, and the second parent has scheduled visits.
Can Custody Arrangements Be Modified?
Based on PA custody laws, either parent can request the court to alter custody arrangements in case of any changes in the circumstances. Even if both parents agree on a custody change, preparing and filing the Petition for Modification of a Custody Order is still necessary. Only the order issued by the court is legally enforceable.
A natural question is: “Can permanent custody be overturned?” If one parent is concerned about the safety of a child due to the inappropriate behavior of the other party, it is necessary to file the Emergency Petition for Special Relief in Custody. In case of any threat to the health, safety, or welfare of a child, a request for modifying child custody can be filed immediately.
Can a final custody order be changed if one parent consistently violates the terms of a legal agreement? Yes, in such cases, the other parent should file the Petition for Civil Contempt for Disobedience of Custody Order to get previous arrangements modified.
How much does a custody modification cost? The fees vary across counties from $50 to $200, so it is better to contact a local court for relevant information. Besides, if you hire an attorney for help, you also need to add the cost of legal assistance to the entire sum.