As a parent in Pennsylvania, you can generally have one of the following types of physical custody (actual time with the children): primary physical custody, partial physical custody or equally shared custody. Primary physical custody means you have more than 50% of the overnights with the children. Partial physical custody means you have less than 50% of the overnights with the children. Equally shared custody means that the parents have the same amount of overnights with the children.
Physical custody is the right to spend time with the children. Legal custody is the right to make major decisions for the children, such as decisions involving schooling, medical care, etc. In the vast majority of cases the parents of a child share legal custody.
Grandparents may be able to assert a legal right to see the children. Please see the related article on our website.
Not always. If you and the other parent can work things out on your own, you never have to go to court and you do not need a formal written custody agreement.
The court is supposed to consider “the best interests of the child” in deciding how physical custody will be divided. Unfortunately, that means whatever the court wants it to mean. Some judges favor equally shared custody (50/50), while other judges think children should have a primary home. In general, the court will consider what the parents were doing prior to coming to court – i.e. was one parent a “stay-at-home” parent? It will also consider the parties’ work schedules, the relative stability of the parties, their living arrangement, and, when the children are older, the child’s preferences. Outcomes can vary greatly by judge.
Judges hate when parties have their children testify in court. Therefore, unless there are unusual circumstances, you should not plan to have your child testify. There are other ways to get into evidence a child’s preferences, such as through a custody evaluation.
A custody evaluation is an evaluation performed by a psychologist or other qualified/licensed professional aimed at helping the court determine what physical custody situation is in the best interest of the child. It usually involves the parties and child/ren meeting the evaluator for several sessions, sometimes alone and sometimes together. Sometimes it will also involve psychological testing. Usually the evaluator also acts as a mediator and tries to get the parties to settle the case. If the case does not settle, then the evaluator will issue a recommendation stating their findings, along with a proposed custody schedule.
You may or may not be required to have a custody evaluation. Some court systems favor them, whereas other courts recognize that they can create additional obstacles to resolving a custody case. It really just depends on where your case will be heard.
If the other parent is not following the custody order, you can file for contempt. This is a hard road, however, if the other parent is consistently only a few minutes late. The courts do not like to deal with what they consider “minor” issues. If you want to pursue this, you will need to have evidence. You will need to document every time the other parent is late to an exchange or violates the order in other ways. Keep a log. You should also have evidence that you sent the other parent polite reminders of the exchange times. Once you can prove a pattern of lateness, then you can take the issue to court.
One custody arrangement that helps reduce the frustration of exchanges is to always have the parent whose custody time is starting responsible for picking the child/ren up at the other parent’s house. So long as you don’t have anywhere urgent to go, it is less frustrating to be waiting at your home rather than in some parking lot somewhere.
Disclaimer: The information you obtain at this site is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation.