If you’re dissolving your marriage and you have kids with your spouse, the impending child custody arrangement may be causing some anxiety. What the court will decide is not often clear before you receive the order. If you’re not on speaking terms with your ex, working out an agreement ahead of time might be impossible. No matter where you’re at with your divorce, below are four important facts about child custody in Pennsylvania that will be helpful as you navigate the process.
1. A child custody order is legally binding.
When establishing a custody arrangement, the court considers many factors to determine the best interest of a child. A judge can award either sole or joint custody. Sole custody means the child’s physical and legal rights are in the care of one “custodial” parent. A joint custody arrangement means parents share these rights and responsibilities.
The final order is a legally-binding document. Parents must abide by the arrangement. Failure to do so could mean hefty fines and, depending on the situation, even jail time.
2. Mothers do not necessarily have more rights to custody than fathers.
Parental roles have changed over the past few decades. However, many divorcing couples still believe a child’s mother will have more legal rights in terms of child custody in Pennsylvania. Fathers sometimes do not try to negotiate for joint custody as a result.
In truth, unless one parent is deemed unfit to have custody, Pennsylvania courts often award parents joint custody. Sole custody is generally not recommended unless one parent is a direct harm to the child. Gender is not a factor in a court’s custody decision. Instead, important factors include the parents’ living situations, past alcohol or drug use, any history of abuse or neglect, and more.
3. If something changes in your life, you can modify the court order.
Parents can modify an order to change custody rights. The court that issued the original order handles modification of that order. Because the court has “continuing jurisdiction” over these orders, it can update them as necessary.
A modification is necessary if one parent plans to relocate or is deployed, or one parent is temporarily unable to care for the child. A parent may also need to modify an order if the other parent is putting the child in danger. There are many good reasons to modify an order, but the court should approve the changes. That way, the agreement is enforceable later.
If you need to request modification of a custody order in Pennsylvania, do not attempt to do it alone. Filing for a modification is often a confusing process. We can save you a lot of time and frustration.
4. A lawyer experienced with child custody in Pennsylvania can smooth the process.
Getting the court to file or modify a custody order can seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. From the initial conversation about custody to negotiations, the final court order and any necessary modifications, an experienced attorney can help streamline the process of child custody in Pennsylvania.
Feel free to contact the family law attorneys at Petrelli Previtera Schimmel, LLC for assistance with your custody agreement.