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Types of Custody Orders in a Pennsylvania Divorce

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It’s in the interest of most parents that their children grow up in the most favorable environment that they possibly can.

In the unfortunate case of a divorce, you might be left wondering what the future holds for your kids and how parenting will work going forward.

Custody requires that divorcing parents temporarily shelve their differences and come up with a parenting arrangement that works in the best interest of your child.

Often, custody is a straightforward affair. 90% of the time, it never gets to trial. However, when it does, it can quickly morph into a complex issue that is best navigated with the guidance of an experienced attorney.

Our team at Petrelli Previtera has several years of experience in family law, helping people like you. As such, we will help you clarify the intricacies of custody in PA and advocate the best outcome for you and your child.

Temporary Custody Orders in PA

Temporary custody orders, also known as intern custody orders, dictate who has custody of the child during the litigation process.

A divorce trial can take 90 days to a year, depending on many factors. During this time, temporary orders dictate which parent has physical custody of the child and makes significant decisions affecting the child’s life.

Emergency Custody Orders in PA

You can file emergency custody orders whenever your child’s health, welfare and safety is in question. Some of the situations that may warrant a filing of emergency custody orders include:

  • Incarceration of the other parent
  • Physical, sexual or emotional abuse
  • Drug and substance abuse
  • Any form of child abuse

To initiate this process, your attorney can help you file a petition for emergency custody. Unlike other petitions, emergency trials can be ex-parte, meaning that the other party is not required to be present.

Also, unlike other types of custody that can spill into several weeks or months, emergency custody is expedited. It will be heard within a few days, and the ruling of the judge executed almost immediately.

If you can prove that your child is in imminent danger, the court can grant temporary custody without a court order or parental consent up until a final trial.

Final Custody Orders in PA

A custody trial in PA ends when the judge signs final custody orders that will dictate the custody of the child going forward.

Final custody orders replace the temporary custody orders and give a comprehensive definition of the custody schedule. This schedule will include the legal and physical schedule, the holiday schedule and even vacation schedules.

 These orders then apply until the child is 18 or any of the conditions below it is met:

  • Death of either parent
  • The divorced parents come to an agreement
  • Emancipation of the child (court declares the child legally free from their parents)

Legal and Physical Custody: Which is Which

Legal custody refers to the right of either parent to make crucial decisions that impact the child’s life. Some decisions that fall under legal custody in PA include:

  • Where the child’s schools
  • Religious and moral upbringing
  • Medical decisions
  • The welfare of the child

Physical custody, on the other hand,  refers to the parent with whom the child will reside. Physical and legal custody can be awarded to one parent or shared among both parents.

In most instances where one parent gets legal custody, physical custody is often shared between the two parents.

Here is a brief breakdown of the different types of physical custody:

Sole Physical Custody

This refers to a physical custody arrangement where the child lives primarily with one parent. Often, a child will spend more than 50% of their time with one parent who becomes the custodial parent.

The other parent, who doesn’t have custody, then receives visitation rights and can visit the child from time to time.

Joint Custody

Joint custody is a form of physical custody where the child spends an equal amount of time with each parent. Note that the term ‘equal’ doesn’t necessarily mean a 50 – 50 split. It could be one parent who stays with the kids on two days while the other takes the next two days, with alternating weekends, or any other arrangement that is agreeable to both sides.

The Process for Filing Custody in Pennsylvania

 The steps for filing for custody in Pennsylvania are:

  1. File for a custody complaint in the county where the child has lived for the past six months
  2. A custody conciliatory conference will be scheduled to try and find a solution before going to trial
  3. If the parents agree at the custody conference, a custody order will be offered
  4. If the parents can’t agree, then the petition would move to trial
  5. A judge may order a behavioral evaluation of either parent
  6. A judge hears a custody trial and makes a final custody order

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQS) About Custody in PA

Will I get custody of my child?

Who gets custody of the child depends on many factors and the context of your divorce. Note that the judge will try to prioritize the best interest of the child. Fortunately, in most cases, both parents are likely to get shared legal custody, while the court tries as much as possible for both parents to get some form of physical custody.

How does the judge determine custody?

The judge tries as much as possible to base their custody ruling on the best interest of the child. It’s crucial to understand that, at times, the interests of the child and either or both parents are not always aligned. Regardless, the judge will always prioritize the interest of the child over either parent.

Can final custody orders be modified?

Yes, despite the name final, these custody orders can be modified at any time by either party up until the child is 18.

We Can Help

Though the divorce process might be uncharted territory for you, it’s not for our lawyers here at Petrelli Law. Contact us today, and we will work tirelessly to help you quickly set up a new normal that works for you and your child.

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I just want to say GREAT JOB! She is a no nonsense professional with years of experience that qualifies her as a skilled Family Law attorney. She is seasoned, sensitive, and most of all she cares. She made things easy for me. Definitely recommend!

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Overall I was pleased with the results of my divorce case. The entire Petrelli Previtera team truly cares about their clients. Luckily for me, I was paired up with an amazing team helping all the way. If you happen to work with this firm and with the lawyers you’ll be in great hands. It was such an excellent service and it was beyond I expected.

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